Making Friends in Tough Places

For most jobs it’s the people you work with can really make or break your experience. This is especially true when working in the field. Thankfully, I’ve always worked with good field crews, and have never been in a situation in the field where I’ve regretted who I’m with.

I landed my first field job during my undergraduate. I was hired to be a field assistant for research being done in the Yukon. I remember in the interview, my supervisor said something along the lines of: “I want someone who can endure the conditions of the field. Learning the knowledge and techniques will come later”. I’m not sure that I fully understood what he meant at the time, but now after having experienced many field seasons and gone through the process of hiring my own field assistants, I couldn’t agree more.

Identifying plants on the tundra
Identifying plants on the tundra

Fieldwork is a unique working environment. It’s challenging in many ways and often unpredictable. The hours are long, flushable toilets are sometimes a luxury, weather may not be in your favour, and the biting insects can be unbearable. It’s the people along side you who will help you laugh with you and get through the tough times. They also bring often bring the fun times!

When we were in the Yukon, we decided to cook beans one night for dinner during a multi-day excursion. We soaked them the night before and the whole day of before cooking them thinking, the longer they soak the better. We ate them and they were a bit hard, but edible. The next day hiking in the alpine doing fieldwork, I think we all found out that over-soaking beans is a real problem as we were all sick. We were banned from bringing dried beans on future excursions. Another time in a remote area with no easy way out, aside from a multi-day hike or a helicopter, we were hiking back to our campsite to find one of our brand new mountaineering tents had blown over in the strong mountain winds! We hurried back and patched up the tent with duct tape. These experiences were embarrassing and stressful at the time, but they are now some of my most memorable stories from that season and ones that bonded us.

It snowed the day after our tent blew over!
It snowed the day after our tent blew over!

It’s not just the eventful situations that bond people together during fieldwork. When you’re in the field with someone, you spend a LOT of time together. It can be pretty intense work, tedious, and mundane. You get into a routine together and can get to know each other pretty well while working. I remember the times of sitting in the car waiting out the rain and finding ways to entertain ourselves. Or running into the lake after long hot field days during my master’s – of which there were many – and driving back to the field station soaking wet. It was worth it! Or simply discovering nature together whether it’s running around like mad people catching butterflies, finding snakes, and helping turtles off the road. I’m grateful to have shared these experiences with the people I worked with.

In the end, it’s not just about the discussions you’re bound to have, good field crews are the people who jump into lakes with you, who share those embarrassing field mishaps, and most of all, who share your enthusiasm for a sometimes difficult, but always rewarding job.

'Catching' butterflies.
‘Catching’ butterflies.

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