5 Steps to Becoming an Awesome Field Assistant

Going into a field season for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. You’re about to spend a couple of months in a strange land, doing strange tasks with very strange people. You might feel like you’ve suddenly forgotten everything about science, or that you’re definitely not up to walking up that mountain. Do you have the right gear? The right attitude? Are you even the right person for the job?

To help you out, here are Izzy’s top five tips that will help you have the best and most productive field season.

1. Be prepared to work weird hours

In most cases you will be living on the same schedule as your supervisor. That means work will keep going until you’re finished. From late night trips to the lab or waking up to shrub talk, you never know when you might be needed. At first in can be overwhelming, but it’s a great way to engage with the material and experience. You also end up feeling really hardcore and proud of yourself after a long day!

2. Take advantage of every opportunity (sleep when you’re home)

Living in a new place with new people will definitely bring a lot of opportunities to take advantage of. Whether it be going on a hike or taking a tour of the nearby ice-fields, you can always find something new to try. I think saying yes to everything (within reason) is the best way to go about your field season. You will end up meeting a lot of new people and seeing a lot of new things along the way. I have to say, some key memories of my field season are things I have said yes to: going to a lecture with Charley Krebs and seeing my first grizzly bear on the way, and going on a tour of the ice-fields – absolutely amazing. Just say yes!

Related to that, you are only in this new place for a few months out of, quite possibly, your whole life. There’s no reason to go to bed while the northern lights are out – you can sleep when you’re home!

Feeling on top of the world (and a little bit cold)

3. Do things before you’re told & be confident in working independently

Often times the supervisor you’re working with has countless things to do that need to be delegated. If you really pay attention and engage with the tasks at hand, you’ll be able to help them along the way by clearing up any bits that may be left to do. Furthermore, being able to work independently will greatly improve your confidence way beyond the field. I know that for me, I was not a very confident worker and would often seek clarification more often than needed. Being in an isolated location might mean you don’t have the luxury of always asking for help, so you end up having to trust what you think is right. This is definitely frightening at first, but even after the field, I’ve noticed that I trust my knowledge a lot more. Being able to help organise tasks on your own is a great skill to work on and you’ll also be removing a bit of your mentor’s stress!

Izzy Rich (the common garden bed. Also the field assistant.)

4. Challenge yourself

Going to the field was undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I kept telling people “wow who knew I was such a city kid,” but it turns out I am. Being in a remote location, where sometimes I only saw one other person, was extremely shocking to me. It was an incredible learning experience to learn to be alone so intensely. Taking part in long hikes was another shock. Some people may say the hikes I did were not very long, but for me, I was genuinely climbing a mountain in reality and my mind. The emotional barrier of trying such drastically new things was hard to break, but everything you learn and the way you develop as a person when you challenge yourself is something that you will carry for the rest of your life.

Scaling literal and metaphorical mountains

5. Take a lot of pictures

Take a lot of pictures so it doesn’t all feel like a dream!

By Izzy

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