Matthew Aiello-Lammens Ecologist at Work

Pros and Cons of Local Field Work (archive)

My field sites are all within a day's drive of my home. Albeit it's a long day's drive to my sites in northern New Hampshire, but still, far easier to reach than some of my colleagues international field sites.   Three of my field sites are right here on Long Island, less than 30 minutes from my office.  I didn't necessarily pick my field sites out of convenience, but it's a nice bonus.  After college I spent two-plus years working as a Backcountry Caretaker for the Appalachian Mountain Club in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  This experience, combined with numerous outdoor adventures throughout the northeast with my family during my childhood, instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for northeast deciduous and boreal forests.  So, when I came to grad school to study ecology, I naturally migrated to a project that I could do in this forest type.

Working close to home has many perks.  For example, generally I can look at a weather forecast and pick the nicest days to head out to my sites.  Generally I don't have to go out into the field during a down pour or a 100+ degree day.  Not that I don't spend time in the field during crappy weather, but for my Long Island sites, I can usually avoid it.  Another benefit is that I can go out to my sites just to satisfy my curiosity about field methods that pop into my head while I'm looking at my data.  "I wonder if fruit count on these plants markedly differs in July versus August versus September?" Well, I can just head out and look at my plants.

Counting fruit in July
However, there are a few cons I've experienced with having field sites so close to home.  For example, being so close to the office, I'm available to go to lab meetings, thesis defenses, random talks of interest, etc.  These events seldom take more than a few hours a piece, but it's enough to eat into my field work time.  Also, there's other projects I'm working on that feel more urgent at times - 'I can't go into the field today. I have to finish gathering data for project X!'

For me, and for many others too, being successful at grad school requires good time management.  Field work always requires time management, but having my field sites so nearby requires me to treat field visits like any other day-to-day task I have.  I often talk about my 'field season' as though it's a discreet period of time, but in reality,  it's really a portion of the year during which I shuffle in a few more tasks into my daily life.

Update: Since I wrote this short post, another researcher has also written a great piece on doing local field work. I figured I'd link to it here:
http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/in-praise-of-boring-local-field-sites/