When it comes to finding work in science there are countless traits employers are looking for. Often, you will find positions asking that the applicant has some level of experience using computer programs; most commonly SPSS or GIS. They may also ask for experience of living and working out in the field. But here we will be looking at some of the skills a researcher should definitely possess ,but you will rarely find on any application.
Measuring by Eye
A few years back I was speaking to my supervisor when,in passing she mentioned the importance of measuring by eye. After enquiring further it was explained how when working in the field it can be extremely difficult to take accurate measurements of animals. Even when measuring over flat ground it takes considerable practice to be able to confidently estimate the distance to an object. Consider, taking observations from a high vantage point of a bird. If the bird is anywhere put level with you this adds even more difficulty in working out the distance. Whilst electronic rangefinders can be used, they can not always be useful. Especially when measuring fast moving, small animals at a distance. So the best way is to improve your estimations before you are in the field. Estimate the distance to stationary objects before then measuring how far they actually were. You will find your estimates will become much more accurate with time and then an electric rangefinder will be there to back up your observations.
Which Statistical Test
Even if you are only looking to find work as a field assistant helping to gather the data it should be highly important for you to know which tests will be used with the data. By knowing which tests are going to be run, you will be more confident in the data collection and be sure that you are collecting the correct measurements for the test. How many times have students suffered at spending months collecting data only to realise the data doesn’t fit the test they had planned to use. So take the time to learn, at least a little bit, about stats. Its boring for everyone at first. But I have been told numerous times by excellent researchers; that once they understood the stats, and why they were using those tests, they enjoyed the project that much more. Once you understand when, and why to use different tests you will be far more efficient when it comes to project planning, and far more successful applying for researcher positions.
Patience and determination
This could be the most important of the skills mentioned here, and one that will very rarely be asked for specifically. But field researchers must have superhuman levels of patience. Anyone who has ever watched wild animals, just for fun. Will know that the longer you sit silent and motionless the better the results you will see. The frustration that could occur waiting hours on end, everyday in order to collect small amounts of data must be overcome by the observer. Determination is the other important part of this recipe for success. In my own research plan I will be working on habituating wild primates. The groups has had limited contact with humans and are a quick to bolt species. So during the habituation period I can expect around 10 hours or more of hard trekking in hot, sticky, leech filled forests; to get near to the group for maybe 10 minutes a day. I think that both patience and determination can be learnt, and practised. But you must have some level of determination before you even begin the process to become a field researcher.
These are just a small number of the skills which could help you succeed as a researcher in the field and I am sure there are hundreds more that I have missed off here. But by starting here and practicing the skills above you can greatly improve your ability and also your employability as a researcher.
If you have any other great skills you think should be on this list be sure to let me know in the comments!