The Road to Research in the Field The Unglamorous Truth


The dream phase

“That’s what I’m going to do!” Maybe you watched the latest documentary in amazement as a scientists swam with sharks. Scuba gear strapped to their back. Camera in hand swimming amongst the reef to catch footage for their research as a soft lulling voice describes the tragedy of shark persecution. It looks impressive, scary and all round amazing. You find yourself thinking; this scientist acts so bravely everyday. Their work saves species. People must respect them and they must be a great guest at dinner parties. It all looks so cool. “I’d love to do that as a job”.

Or maybe it isn’t sharks, maybe it’s stunning footage of eagles soaring or turtles on the beach or maybe its a researcher sitting feet away from a  powerful gorilla. The point is the same. Their job looks like the best job in the world. You get to wake up every day and make a difference. You get to save at least a part of the world from being lost or destroyed. Soon you find that you cannot shake the thought and it is with you from morning till night. maybe it infiltrates your dreams. It seems not like a choice but destiny. You must got here and spend your live working with that species.

Fantastic! The world needs more people like you. You start to look into how you’re going to make it happen. Maybe you look into volunteering as a way in. Perhaps you find a degree that could lead you into the dream job. but all the while your thinking, once you get there you will wake up every morning and be carefree and do something you love. But then it hits you.


A splash of cold water

You are on the path now. Started your degree, found a volunteer program and signed up, maybe booked a flight to go volunteer on the other side of the world. It’s all so exciting right now. But then it happens. Like a bolt from the blue. you might receive an email.

“Oh hi, before you come out there’s just a little bit of paperwork to do…”

You think ok. Just a few details then back to my dreams. So you fill out the forms right away. Name, address, necessary funding… And send. You breathe a sigh of relief. Got that out of the way and now you get back to learning more bout shark ecology, or how to ID eagles from far away and all is well in your world. Then another beep from your inbox.

“Hi again, yeah that’s great we just need a few more things from you…”

You go out and sort your documents but now you have to wait for other people. Doctors notes, arranging jabs needed, government permissions, research permits, grant application and the list goes on. It seems like you have become an administrator chasing up paper work from one agency to another and heaven forbid you must rely on government departments for a quick reply.

You start to spend your time worrying more about will this paper work be accepted, and is the background colour of my ID sufficient for this form, when you should be more concerned about how your will spend your days in the forest or on the research vessel.

Weeks, maybe even months pass this way. a barrage of emails back and forth to arrange all the paperwork. The dream of being a researcher lies in disarray under a huge pile of requests in your inbox. This is where some even give up. For some the stress of it all has driven some to abandon their dreams. They decide the process is too long, too confusing so they will try again in a year or so. But you push on.

No longer are your dreams infiltrated by the amazing work you will do but instead by the harsh bureaucracy of permit applications. it seems the dream has become a bit of a nightmare.

But don’t despair

The fact you have made it this far is great. Think how many have quit but not you. Maybe your dreams of what it means to be a researcher are not quite the same as when you started. Maybe every researcher has those stressful periods when they cannot be doing what they love the most. But in the end surely it is all worth it.

No one ever expects to be given their dream job, there is always to be hardship on the road to what you love and maybe, when you have been out there. When you have started your research maybe the whole ordeal will feel like a bad dream, and you will be free to do what you love. I hope that is the case.

For you and for me.

A final note. For anyone who has yet to start down the path to field research. I do not mean to scare you away or give a depressing view of the whole scientific world.This is simply my experiences of it so far, I have found it very stressful but if it what I must do to let me research primates and help into conservation work, then I would do it all again in a heartbeat.


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