Out in The Field: Discovering a Career in Field Biology
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Challenges to offering field studies at colleges and universities. Higher education has changed dramatically since Leopold wrote about the importance of field studies in the s. Now, instructors interested in providing field experiences must negotiate a complex suite of financial, logistical, legal, and attitudinal hurdles that usurp time that could be spent working with students and engaging them in field-based learning opportunities. Over time, these hurdles may sap the energy and morale of even the most dedicated instructors, thereby reinforcing the cycle of decline for courses that include a field component e.
Because these challenges are often unfamiliar to those who have never engaged in field studies, the responsibility for advocating for field courses falls almost entirely on the diminishing subset of faculty who are already committed to offering such opportunities. Relative to lecture-based coursework, field-based instruction can be expensive. For example, if students and instructors travel to an off-campus site, food and lodging must often be provided, and, depending on the nature of the course, specialized equipment and supplies may be required.
Accordingly, the per-student cost of intensive field-based biology courses can be considerably greater than that for lecture-only courses. The more appropriate comparison, however, is with laboratory-based biology courses, which are often significantly more expensive per student than field courses. For example, the Biology Department at Middlebury College offers a two-semester introductory biology series consisting of a Ecology and Evolution, which features field components, followed by b Cell Biology and Genetics, which is a lecture—laboratory course.
During the — academic year, the cost per student for Ecology and Evolution was less than two-thirds that for Cell Biology and Genetics Stephen C. This difference was even more dramatic in upper-level courses, with the per-student cost of field-oriented classes being less than a quarter of that for courses with substantial lab components Stephen C. Enrollment in field courses often tends to be low relative to lecture or lab classes; therefore, as campus budgets continue to decrease, field-based offerings provide easy targets for reducing educational costs.
Therefore, any effort to protect or to expand undergraduate field experiences must include a financial model that ensures access by all students. Institutional regulations can also limit opportunities for field study. Ever-increasing liability concerns serve to constrain time in the field.
Such regulations now include specialized training for driving vans, piloting boats, mitigating risk, providing emergency medical care, and maintaining harassment-free learning environments Clancy et al. None of these requirements are frivolous, and they have contributed to safer, more ethical field studies. The burden of regulatory compliance, however, is substantive and often falls on individual instructors.
This burden is amplified when a lack of familiarity with field studies renders many campus regulatory groups ill prepared to make well-reasoned decisions regarding proposed field activities.
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Because faculty, when faced with these demands, may choose to abandon field experiences, efforts to promote field studies must address the associated significant regulatory and logistical challenges. Field courses also require extraordinary effort that is typically undertaken without adequate institutional support for out-of-class faculty time invested in planning, pretrip reconnaissance, logistic preparation, and fulfillment of the regulatory demands of training, liability, and permitting.
Furthermore, field studies that require extended time away from campus impose professional and personal costs, because field instructors are constantly on call as teachers, mentors, safety officers, and, frequently, guidance counselors. While fulfilling these roles, instructors are unable to engage in research or other career-promoting activities, particularly when field activities extend over multiple days.
In summary, the demands of field courses generally far exceed those of campus-based classes. This extra effort is rarely acknowledged by academic administrators, which may deter faculty interest in teaching field courses. Indeed, administrators may actively discourage participation in such courses, particularly for junior faculty. Increasingly, these challenges are coupled with a perceived tendency for biology departments to favor hiring laboratory-based researchers, thereby potentially further undercutting the pool of individuals available to offer field courses.
Removing these roadblocks will require that institutions proactively identify obstacles and actively incentivize field courses. These changes begin with acknowledging both the importance of experiential studies of natural history Fleischner , , Greene and the significant effort required to provide these crucial student experiences.
At academic institutions where field study is considered an integral component of professional training, student interest in field courses is high and often exceeds available enrollment. For example, student demand for introductory and advanced field courses is robust at Prescott College Thomas L. Fleischner ; Middlebury College Stephen C.
As evidence of the potential for sustained interest in field courses, the vertebrate-natural-history course at the University of California, Berkeley, which includes weekly field trips, has been taught for more than years Christina Fidler, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, personal communication, 3 January In these programs, the field experience becomes a hallmark of the institution, distinguishing graduates from their peers in employment and graduate study opportunities.
Accordingly, institutions that neglect or even discourage field study are missing significant opportunities to foster student interest and are failing to provide students with training experiences that are fundamental to multiple scientific disciplines. Despite an often-inherent interest in natural history, many students of biology choose curricula that do not include field studies Smith Many biology departments emphasize preparation for careers in biomedicine, with field studies often viewed as being of marginal relevance to this professional trajectory.
This perception persists despite recent changes to the Medical College Admissions Test Beck and medical school admissions criteria that place greater emphasis on evolutionary biology and, by extension, the natural world. This is reflected in student perceptions that field courses do not enhance employability Mauchline et al. These assumptions overlook evidence that many significant discoveries, including those likely to benefit human health, come from the field e. Clearly, greater effort needs to be made to inform students of the essential role that field study plays in biomedical science.
Declining participation in field studies may also reflect large-scale societal shifts that have altered the precollege environments of many students. For example, as much of the world has become more urbanized Thornbush , childhood exposure to nature has diminished Louv Sense of place for many of today's students does not extend to remote landscapes, which may be perceived as intimidating.
At the same time, loss of contact with the natural world may affect the capacity to engage with field settings. For example, extensive use of cell phone and computer screens has been shown to alter the human visual system Sewall Consequently, the shift to increasingly human-modified environments creates a negative feedback loop that serves to increase emotional and physical distance from nature and therefore to decrease interest in field-based educational experiences.
Many of our most pressing socioecological issues lie at the intersection between culture and nature, and cultural diversity is essential to sustainability. Field experiences are crucial for developing the next generation of environmental professionals, but at present, undergraduate participation in field studies is not reflective of human cultural diversity Baker , Arismendi and Penaluna Multiple factors contribute to the underrepresentation of multiple groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, and socioeconomic background Van Velsor and Nilon , Cotton and Cotton For first-generation students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, a focus on nature may be perceived as contrary to improved financial prospects, and the study of wild places and wild organisms may seem irrelevant to social-justice concerns.
Whereas suburban students brought up in the tradition of backyard explorations, weekend hikes, and summer family vacations to national parks may leap into a field course without concern, an urban student who has never spent a night outdoors may find a field experience daunting Cotton and Cotton A female student may be reluctant to live under field conditions in a group consisting primarily of males because of cultural norms or fear of harassment, especially from men perceived as higher in professional hierarchies Clancy et al.
Disabled students may be discouraged from field studies even if their disabilities can be accommodated Hall et al. Designing field courses that respect and accommodate student differences will be crucial to ensuring that such experiences are accessible to all, with the resulting diversity of perspectives enriching for all learners.
Out in the Field : Discovering a Career in Field Biology by Tim Hovey (2012, Paperback)
By definition, field studies occur outdoors. Not surprisingly, many field-based programs take place where undisturbed nature has to some degree been conserved. Furthermore, because contact with more sub urban landscapes often includes interactions with park rangers, land managers, and other conservation professionals, these experiences can be particularly valuable for revealing potential career opportunities. In summary, the benefits of interacting with nature can be realized in a wide range of accessible settings, a realization that can help make field study part of the pedagogy of all undergraduate programs.
Providing students with field experiences in more human-influenced habitats may require particular creativity. For example, for instructors at large, urban campuses, the classic weekend trip spent capturing mammals or reptiles can be replaced by observations of peregrine falcons foraging in urban canyons, surveys of pollinators in urban gardens, analyses of ants foraging in a local park, recordings of the dawn chorus of birds in a day-use area, or camera trapping of urbanized wildlife.
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These activities may not provide the deep immersion in nature that more extended or remote field experiences do, but they are often sufficient to pique the interest of students and awaken them to the processes of observation, interpretation, and exploration of nature McCleery et al. Even among educators who embrace the importance of field studies, some may hesitate to provide these experiences if they do not feel capable of designing and leading such activities.
Challenges include not just pedagogical techniques but also the necessary logistics and demands associated with managing student group dynamics in often-unpredictable physical settings. Teachers, like students, need role models and mentors. Checklists or instruction manuals that summarize the basic considerations associated with overseeing field experiences provide valuable support to faculty.
Furthermore, the use of established field stations and marine laboratories can be invaluable for alleviating logistical and academic concerns Billick et al. For instructors, field stations provide opportunities to tap into existing networks of supportive colleagues; for students, such locations provide exposure to a wide range of scientific studies conducted in natural settings.
Although relevant materials exist on how to lead field courses e. Tangible resources that experienced field instructors can provide include lesson plans, logistic suggestions, and, in particular, person-to-person mentoring of less experienced colleagues. Despite the sometimes-significant challenges outlined here, field courses continue to be offered and enthusiastically embraced by dedicated faculty and avid students. Faculty who lead such courses do so because they understand the profound benefits to student learning, to personal and professional development, and to the development of an ecologically literate society.
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There is no replacement for direct interaction with the living world. Eschewing the field in favor of the classroom, lab, museum, book, or computer is to favor the abstract over the real. We contend that all learners need to experience the real in order to be able to think critically about the abstract, let alone contribute to the development of new conceptual constructs.
At the same time, however, we assert that field studies and, specifically, the instruction of field courses need to change to become more available, inclusive, and relevant to the rapidly changing world. We offer the following suggestions to ensure that field experiences contribute to the preparation of future generations of excited and creative biologists, as well as the creation of a more nature-literate society figure 3. Potential solutions for offering field studies at colleges and universities. Although many of us who lead field courses extol the benefits of teaching outdoors, we need more effective means of conveying the necessity of field studies to others.
Analogy may help. Field study is how ecologists, conservationists, and taxonomists hone their craft; it is the opportunity to put acquired information, theories, and skills into practice. A music student may be immersed in theory and history, listening to the works of others, but it is when she puts fingers to the keyboard, practicing for hours on end, that she perfects the integration of motor skills and emotion that culminates in a stunning performance.
grupoavigase.com/includes/383/5911-aire-barcelona.php Describing such equivalencies between biological field studies and other disciplines that engage in practice-based, transformative education should strengthen understanding and support among academic colleagues. In addition to finding better ways to communicate the values of field study in biology, field instructors must actively participate in creating assessment-based curricula. Most universities use assessment tools based on course content and skill acquisition to evaluate student learning. Numbers matter.
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Recent analyses indicate that content and skills are better retained following field experiences than following lab-based exercises Scott et al. That is, feelings and values matter to students. Because tools for assessing affective impacts are less familiar to most bioscientists and often include qualitative elements that are more challenging to analyze and interpret, the development of mixed-measure assessment tools i.
Such measures could also serve to improve student experiences and to identify and rectify inequities in access to field opportunities. To meet compliance challenges, we encourage field instructors to join local conversations regarding the regulatory environment at their institutions.