Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Sacrifices of Field-Based Scientists

A belated happy birthday to my wife, Staci. Don’t worry, I did call her and sent some nice flowers, but since it is she who has sacrificed the most to allow me the opportunity to come to Montana again this summer, I wanted to make special note of it here. Which actually brings up another interesting topic, the sacrifices made by field researchers—whether they be paleontologists or a member of any of the other sciences which require fieldwork. It's wonderful as an undergraduate or graduate student, and even as a young working professional. No responsibilities except the work. However, as these scientists mature in their personal lives and start a family, the field work becomes slightly more burdensome.

As young undergraduates, field camps and field experiences are an adventure. Mackenzie, one of our field crew this year, just returned from a three-week trip to India and the Himalayas before joing us for Dinosaur Field School. Sara, likewise, spent several weeks in Utah for a field course this summer. Not to belittle their sacrifices, which are real and financially significant, but they are much different than those made by more established field researchers. Angela, who has just graduated, has been away from home for a total of nine weeks this summer. She is also now in that transition period, having to coordinate her moving arrangements, grad school registration, caring for her pets (thanks, Ben), and numerous other responsibilities.

Now, I can only speak from my experience, especially this summer, but leaving one’s significant other, children, and other responsibilities behind for a month or more at a time can be quite difficult. The advent of cell phones and the Internet (when available) have made this separation somewhat easier, but many field scientists still have difficulties with these sacrifices and even refuse to make the sacrifices and hang up their hiking boots and field gear for more administrative or non-travel oriented tasks. Likewise, the families left behind during these prolonged experiences have to make sacrifices as well. Finding alternate child care, a doubling of reproductive chores at home, keeping track of a dinosaur blog, etc. are added strains on the life of loved ones.

This isn’t intended to be a moaning session, but the realities are just that…real. Field experience is crucial to the development of young scientists at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Fieldwork by museums, universities and individuals is critical to the furtherance of science and our understanding of the world around us. My hope, instead, is to make the readers of this blog a little more aware that, despite the adventure of living in the desert for five weeks and discovering interesting things, field-based science is not just fun and games…though it does have its moments.

1 comment:

Staci Dennison said...

Thank you for the birthday flowers, they are beautiful! Will and I are doing very well, although we miss you!

Will mastered the art of clapping this weekend. Until last night, the dog food bowl and her water dish were safe--Will has now discovered them as he's getting more comfortable (and faster) crawling on the kitchen tile.

Best wishes to all those at DFS! We know how much fun you are having!

-Staci and Will