Supporting graduate field leadership through community-sourced advice, action, and policy

Abstract

Ecology and environmental science graduate degrees often involve fieldwork, frequently led by the graduate student. Few formal resources exist to support graduate students in successfully planning and implementing a data collection field campaign, even though this experience may be fundamental to completing a graduate degree. Graduate fieldwork requires leading and managing a team, often in unique circumstances (including long hours, remote regions, etc.), and therefore can be challenging even for those with previous leadership or field experience. Our objectives were to (1) collect general advice for graduate students on leading fieldwork safely and effectively, (2) solicit specific suggestions on resources and actions to take before, during, and after the field season, and (3) develop a series of recommendations for labs, departments, and universities to better prepare and support their students. We developed a survey to solicit community input and distributed it widely to the ecological sciences community via email LISTSERVs and social media. Here, we present results from the survey responses, including a summary of the perceived challenges that graduate students face while leading their own fieldwork, suggestions for how to prepare and complete fieldwork successfully, and a compilation of resources. Graduate field leaders can improve success via clear communication, risk assessment and procedural planning implemented before, during, and after the field season. Labs, principal investigators, departments, and professional societies can support graduate field leaders by formalizing institutional resources, financial support, and incentivizing skill development. Field leadership is a critical skill to develop during graduate education, and contributes to the success, retention, and advancement of researchers in the natural sciences.

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Katherine Hayes
Postdoctoral Fellow