Friday, February 28, 2020

Family Friendly Field Station

The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory is located in Gothic, Colorado, near Crested Butte.  In addition to world class research being done, this field station is also host an exceptional science and nature summer camp taught by highly qualified educators.  My sons have attended this camp and loved it.  Camp attendees learn about the natural world from the researchers who are on the edge of discovery more about it.  The children see real experiments being done, and watch marmots and foxes play.  This family friendly research environment has spanned many generations, and is talked about in the posts stories below.

"Gothic is for Families" by Ian Billick, Executive Director of RMBL -

"How to Raise a Scientist" The story of Dr. Amy Iler and Dr. Paul CaraDonna  -

Monday, August 19, 2019

Fieldsite Interview with Baby

Simone Whitecloud talks about her research on plant interactions in alpine environments, and traditional ecological knowledge, while holding her daughter on a hike up one of the mountains.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nature Article - Ways to juggle fieldwork with kids in tow

Career Feature
by Emily Sohn

"Ways to juggle fieldwork with kids in tow Researcher-parents must balance their children’s needs with work priorities while in the field."

5-year-old Field Assistant for Soil Sampling

By Jessica Ernakovich

At the first weekly lab meeting of the semester, I asked everyone for summer highlights. Many had traveled abroad this summer for one reason or another, so those highlights were pretty self-explanatory. I too almost shared my summer highlight as a great two weeks in the field in Sweden, where I was exploring new collaborations and opportunities to study the effects of warming on permafrost thaw and Arctic biogeochemistry.

But, that wasn’t my highlight. This was!

Taking my 5-year old son, Clark, with me in the field at our local field site was the highlight of my summer. Even more, listening to my undergraduate student (thanks, Sam McNeil) explain science to my son was a highlight.

My 5-Year Old, Clark, slathered with sunscreen and ready to work.
Clark had been dying to know what a day in the field looks like. He begged to come along to the Arctic, but this didn’t pan out. So, when our local sampling got scheduled at the same time as a daycare closure, we decided that he would join me. We spent the day sampling local agricultural soils for our work exploring the effect of management on microbial diversity in New England. (Thanks to Dr. Jessica Mackay for coordinating and leading this effort, and to the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station for funding!) It was much easier than arranging a big field campaign with Clark, because we could be close to the car and he could run around the field site (a flat hayfield) without safety concerns. But, we both still got the experience of doing fieldwork together.

Of course, we had ups and downs that day. To me, the major pros were:

  • Clark got to see what I do every day;
  • Clark had lots of questions about soils, and it was fun to hear Sam explore the answers with him;
  • This actually solved a real problem of daycare being closed, and I still got all of the sampling I needed to do that day done. 

And the cons:

  • There were meltdowns and some pouting (it was 95F!), although they were brief and easily solved with diversions;
  • While we started completely safe from sun and ticks, this devolved into nakedness (Clark only!) so we relied on a very thorough tick check for safety;
  • I was definitely distracted. It took more mental energy to make sure the sampling was done correctly, and our sampling was roughly 10% slower with Clark than on days without him.

But, we ended the day with a race to pick up the flags. And the meltdowns and slower work pace were all worth it when I saw Clark racing Sam (who is graciously letting the 5-year old win) to pick up every flag. Clark was having fun, and he was part of our team. And now he is a passionate advocate of the importance of soils, and that is a great payoff.

When I do this again, I will prepare for success a bit differently. We brought toy trucks as his activity this go around. Both Clark and I thought this made sense since I’d be digging in the soil. Next time, I plan to design an activity relating to the fieldwork so that Clark gets really engaged. For example, I might have him do a drawing of the site, record weather data, sieve the soil, or match it with color charts. It’s not that I’d expect my son to produce useable data, but it was clear that the more that he felt an integral part of the project—rather than a bystander playing with his trucks—the happier he was. And who knows what breakthroughs might come from the random insights of a child? Would I take Clark to the field again? Absolutely. I’ll need another summer highlight! But, would I be ready to take him to my Arctic field station? Not yet. But, if he gets really good at the color chart over the next few summers of local sampling, then who knows—I’ll have to take him!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Family and the field: Expectations of a field-based research career affect researcher family planning decisions

Family and the field: Expectations of a field-based research career affect researcher family planning decisions - Christopher D. Lynn, Michaela E. Howells, Max J. Stein

Journal article - "Anthropology is a field-based discipline that utilizes a comparative approach to understand humanity. However, social and financial barriers may undermine intersectionality in the discipline and prevent some individuals from pursuing an anthropological career. We examined perceived stress and family-career balance among anthropologists and those training to become anthropologists with regard to SES, gender, and family planning decisions. To accomplish this, we used a convenience survey."

The discussion includes an exceptional overview of how anthropology fieldwork is managed by parents, and how it influences careers.  

Nice blog post discussing some of the details from a personal perspective by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie -

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fieldwork with Family Blog/Resource from aKidemic Life

aKidemic Life

"Taking your kids into the field may be a fantastic educational opportunity, but fieldwork can be stressful at the best of times, even when you aren't juggling the demands of research and family. Here we provide information to help you kick-start a family-friendly research trip that is safe and enjoyable for all.  Join  the aKIDemic Life community today and we will send you the latest tips to help you prepare for your next fieldtrip."

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ecology Fieldwork and Teaching Adventures with Children

By Andrea Worthington, Ph.D. Professor emeritus, Biology, Siena College, Loudonville, NY

I have spent my career teaching field courses in Plant Ecology and Tropical Biology at a small college in upstate New York.  With my husband’s help, I took all my children with me in the field for weekend field trips.  When I started teaching Tropical Biology, first in Puerto Rico and then in Costa Rica, I brought my husband and children along.  My husband and I collaborate on research, examining the prey capture behavior of dragonflies and the neuro-ethology of prey capture.  The history of my academic career is tightly woven to accommodate raising children.

I know that working while having babies requires lots of creativity. The best decision I made was to commit to breast feeding.  My first born arrived in March and I had already arranged an unpaid leave for the spring semester to care for my son.  When I had to return to work, I was very lucky to find a care-giver who was also a nursing mom and she was willing to help me. My plan was to nurse my first born during all my time at home including through the night. My care-giver knew how to offer water with a sippy cup to my son who was just 6 months old when I returned to work in the Fall. My daughter was born 5 years later in June but I also took an unpaid leave in the Fall.

I was hired by a four-year college to teach Plant Ecology (along with many other courses).  Every year, the Plant Ecology course would spend a weekend in the Adirondacks visiting sphagnum bogs and climbing a mountain collecting data on how plant communities change with altitude.  We would tent camp and cook meals on camp stoves.  Class sizes would vary from 15 to 30.  My husband came with me and so did our children as they arrived. I also invited colleagues (with or without children) to join us.  I found that having children present really led to more community and helpful behavior in the field. It also tamped down unwanted behaviors such as the urge to 1) sneak in beer and party when we camped and 2) race to the top of the mountain.

The following three photos are from various trips to study tree gradients on Adirondack Mts in Plant Ecology lab.

We would camp out Friday nights and hit the trails early Saturday to reach the summit collecting data on plant community structure and diversity on the way.

My son’s first Adirondack adventure was when he was 1½ years old. He was still nursing at the time.  He participated in 14 mountain data-collecting assents. My daughter’s first Adirondack adventure was when she was 1 years old. She was also nursing.  She participated in 12 mountain data-collecting assents. Thank heavens for child backpack carriers. With the help of my husband and other colleagues that joined us, the students collected data at each elevation interval gain and we got everyone to the top of the mountain. My children learned to identify plants and, as they got older, they were great teaching assistants.

The first time I taught Tropical Ecology, my son was 10 months old. The course was co-taught and we had a winter break trip to Puerto Rico.  My husband came along to care for our son while I was supervising student research.  Our son took his first steps in El Yunque National Forest.

The first time we taught Tropical Ecology in Costa Rica, my co-teacher brought his wife and their 2 year old child and I brought my husband and both our children (our son was 16 and our daughter was 12).

Author's daughter mist-netting birds with co-instructor and students

Author and son viewing monkeys in Costa Rica

We visited 3 different field stations covering various different tropical plant communities…traveling by bus and living in field station dormitories.  It was so helpful to have curious young people at any age.  The 1 year old loved the leaf cutter ants.

Costa Rica Tropical Biology Field Course
Again, traveling with families really impacted the student behavior. I would say they were a fabulous addition since they were constantly curious and had a wonderful ability to observe and discover creatures. They were great assistants in student projects. The students included them in their social activities too which I think damped down possible chaos.

The children also went along to international professional society meetings, along with field trips.

Worldwide Dragonfly Association Meeting in Sweden

Our children over the years helped us with our research on the neuro-ethology of prey capture behavior in dragonflies.  They helped us dig a backyard pond to attract dragonflies.

Building a backyard dragonfly pond to raise animals for research.

The have helped us collect dragonfly larvae and adults in the field.  They have helped us video prey capture behavior in the field. Each did independent research projects on dragonflies for high school honors research.

So after all that exposure to science, what have they chosen to do with their lives?  My son is a musician and is a partner in a music production studio and my daughter is working on a Ph.D. in plant genetics.