Before departing on any journey it always pays to be prepared in at least some way. But with field research there is far more to consider then your average trip.
Embarking on long-term field research is known to be extremely challenging. The starts long before you reach the forest, in fact it starts before you leave your home country. This is due to the way the world has developed in ways such as improved security involved in travelling but also by the explosion in the number of permits required. This all has to be dealt with before you even consider are you mentally prepared to head out for an extended period of time. So it helps to know exactly what you are going to need to complete whilst also knowing what you must ask yourself before you go.
Even the word makes most feel dazed. Arranging permits to conduct research can be an administrative nightmare. It is understandable that those working in protected habitats must be checked to ensure their research won’t damage the habitat or interfere with conservation goals. However, it seems sometimes that permits provide little to no benefit for anyone but can add certainly add up. Currently I am completing permit application to work in protected areas in Indonesia. Whilst Indonesia has a surprisingly good online permit system it is not without flaws. As not everything can be done by the online system travel to Indonesian consulates must be arranged months before departing. Staying in big cities to get this paperwork sorted can be a concern for those with limited funding for their research. As well as the cost of travelling to collect permits there is often a fee attached to gain access to protected areas. These fees seem to be independent to the research you are conducting or the equipment you need to take and park permits have taken a large price hike in the last year now costing more than double. With these expenses it is advised to understand the permit system for your given country long before you are due to go. Giving yourself at least four months prior to departure would be a great idea as you are relying on government offices.
Whilst obvious it is easy to forget and leave jabs to last-minute. making for a stressful last few weeks. To avoid this speak to your GP early on and tell them where you are likely to be going. Most vaccinations are relatively straight forward, but some can quickly become expensive and optional vaccines make it easy to gamble and not get the jab. Remember that yes in the short-term you may save yourself some money, but if you are in a remote location and become ill what will the consequences be?
Whilst it may sound silly to remind researchers of the importance equipment, just remember, you are likely to be far from the nearest tech store. Possibly far from the nearest town. So if your equipment goes on the blink, ordering new gear is often out of the question. Have you managed to read reviews on every product you will need? Have you thought of how your research may evolve whilst you are out there and do you have the tools needed if so?
The list of equipment needed is longer the list of research that could be completed, so an overview of whats vital shall hopefully give guidance;
Laptop – You could buy a superb laptop and spend any sum of money on it. This is likely to be your most vital bit of equipment. All your data maybe be recorded digitally, data analysis can be done in the field, and they can supply you sometime with a link to the outside world. But just remember. A laptop can easily succumb in tough environments. The humidity alone in the rainforest has the potential to wreak havoc on your data collection. So whilst your computer must be powerful enough to manage large data sets 8Gb of Ram minimum is recommended for many programs, maybe don’t go buying that really fancy HD laptop because frankly it may not survive. Instead get something relatively cheap, sturdy and almost as important as the laptop itself. An external hard drive to keep your work safe.
GPS – For data collection in the natural world GPS has revolutionised the research being done. The use of GPS can turn a list of behaviours and general areas into a sophisticated map detailing exactly when and where animals are. This applied to countless programs, most notably GiS, has provided new insights into my species lives. Whilst they can be expensive, for some research they pay for themselves in great data.
Solar charger – This one can be voided if the use of a generator is available. But for some field research you may find yourself unable to keep your equipment running without one. Whilst the charge time of many solar chargers may be longer then being plugged into the mains out in the field they could prove a god send. Solar panel tech is getting better every year and as it does the prices are lowering. Whilst a good one may set you back over £140 they might just be essential for your research.
Once the paper work is in order and the equipment has been purchased you can finally relax and think, are you ready to undertake this research? For many so much time and energy has already been put in there is no way they would consider not going. To back out at a late stage would certainly feel like a let down but some things must be considered before you depart.
Probably the most obvious is, you are probably going to miss your friends and family. Depending on the length of the research you may not see your loved ones for a year or more. This can be challenging for anyone and the effects shouldn’t be dismissed. I have personally never felt homesick, but I am still aware I will be on the other side of the globe unable to simply call my loved ones for a chat. You may find it helpful to speak with your loved ones about this before you leave. Discuss how you can try to contact them, and do your best to not simply disappear off the Earth. As your leaving may be just as difficult for them.
Another thing to consider is the culture shock of living in another country. It is easy to forget whilst preparing for research that you will be dealing with people from another culture. You may see things which you simply cannot understand at the time, but stay respectful.Take the time to learn as much as possible about where you re going. Learn the language if time permits even if just a few essential phrases. It is important to show respect to those you are living with so even if you fumble through the language it pays to try.
Fitness isn’t something many people consider. But it will be paramount in for researching in hard conditions. It should be advised that being in good shape before you even start planning to go would be great, but if not well at least train before you go. My research will take me through mountainous terrain and hiking long hard days after primates. I cycle almost everyday and work a physically demanding job but still require more training before I go. If you haven’t started yet. Then start today. A small mount of cardio now will pay you back in bucket loads when you are there.
Whilst there is plenty to consider before leaving on field research it remains a very personal undertaking. You must trust in your own decisions now and during the time you are in the field. Be sure to read reviews of best equipment and always know what permits to apply for to save yourself the hassle later. If you are onto of all these steps and considerations then you can turn your attention to what you have been working so hard for. The research.