Unlike many of the contributors to this blog, fieldwork is not part of my job description. Not too long ago fieldwork was, however, a large part of my life. Nevertheless, fieldwork is never really far away, since I regularly update this blog with posts from staff and students, each reflecting on a wide range of fieldwork activities and experiences. In this blogpost, and taking inspiration from previous posts, I argue that fieldwork enables the development of skills for all careers.
I undertook fieldwork for my BSc in Environmental Geology – this included spending a month in Melmerby, Cumbria, creating a geological map of the area from surrounding rock exposures and abandoned quarries; my MSc in Geoarchaeology – in addition to fieldtrips I spent 2 weeks on Easter Island collecting soil samples to investigate garden agriculture; and for my PhD examining in situ preservation at Glastonbury Lake Village and a section of the Sweet Track, both in Somerset – this involved sediment analysis, and over 17 months I monitored the hydrology, water chemistry, conductivity, pH, redox potential and soil moisture levels at both sites. Whilst I have worked in the field both nationally and internationally, I have studied for all of these degrees here at Reading, moving between the Departments of Archaeology, Chemistry, and Geography and Environmental Science.
A manavai (semi-circular walled garden on Easter Island) containing taro plants
Although I spend a large amount of my time based behind a desk, my love of geology remains, and can be seen in the rocks and fossils I use as paperweights. Getting back to the point of my blogpost – I believe that the skills and experiences I have gained/built on through fieldwork are all transferable, and I continue to use them every day.
Fieldwork develops skills for all career paths. For me, my fieldwork experiences have been very challenging, but also highly rewarding. Taking some examples from my time spent on Easter Island fieldwork:
Forced me out of my comfort zone
This is something Izabela Stacewicz discussed in her blog post. Travelling to one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world (on my own) was certainly a huge leap out of my comfort zone. There is no denying that stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone is challenging, but for me this was, and continues to be, an important part of moving forward and testing what is possible.
View looking out along the coastline of Easter Island and out into the surrounding Pacific Ocean
These range from comparatively small challenges, such as getting my soil samples through customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, in order to catch a collecting flight (I was lucky it only took 4 hours!) to the larger challenge of actually getting to Easter Island in the first place. In John Carson’s post he highlighted the importance of patience during fieldwork. I would also add that persistence is also important! For me this involved spending many weeks emailing researchers looking for someone who would help me design a project, gain permission to work on the Island, and ultimately offer guidance in the field while they undertook their research. My persistence was successful!
Examining the soil structure in a rock garden before taking a micromorphology sample
Steep learning curve
Fieldwork is not just about collecting samples. Analysing the samples to make sense of what you have collected/recorded in the field is also a crucial aspect of research. For me this involved learning/enhancing skills in particle size analysis, micromorphology, starch analysis, pollen analysis, phytolith analysis, X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF). Preparation for fieldwork, the work itself, subsequent laboratory analysis, and writing up the results, all require skills in multitasking, organisation, communication, and working both independently, and as part of a team. All of these skills are also applicable, and transferable, to jobs that do not include fieldwork.
Fieldwork is often not all work. While I was on Easter Island I also took the opportunity to explore, and as a consequence I rode horseback across the Island, visited many of the amazing archaeological sites, including Rano Raraku (the moai statue quarry), a number of the ahu (platforms on which the moai were erected), and the ceremonial village of Orongo (famous for the birdman ceremony), and drank Pisco sours watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. These are memories and experiences I will never forget.
View looking out from Rano Raraku
Ahu Tongariki (this is the largest ahu on the island, and was restored in the 1990’s)
A closer view of a moai
Ultimately fieldwork is what you make of it. If I can offer one piece of advice: Go for it! You never know where the skills you gain will take you.
A bit about today’s blogger: Dr Louise Jones
In addition to everything I have discussed in my blog post above, I am working with both the Athena Swan Self-Assessment team on the School’s Silver Award application, and the Gender and Fieldwork Working Group on the School’s yearlong project examining Gender and Fieldwork. If you would like to contribute towards the blog (we welcome blog posts from all staff and students, as well as suggestions about articles/news stories/other blogs etc), enter the fieldwork photograph competition (deadline 30th March 2015), or discover more about the conference examining ‘Perspectives on Gender and Fieldwork’ taking place on the 29th April 2015 then please get in touch. My email address is – firstname.lastname@example.org