Kelsey Lyberger (PhD student, UC Davis)

Maybe you are deep in the analysis and writing phase of your dissertation or maybe you do theoretical work. Whatever the reason, I often find myself itching to get outside. Here are some of the ways I get my fieldwork fix.

  1. Small-grant Funding: If you are looking to start up a new field study there are lots of small pots of money you can apply for. For example, many field stations and reserves have graduate student funding opportunities aimed to increase use. Other places to look are societies, such as ASN also offer student research grants, and university or department specific grants. I got my feet wet—literally—by starting up a long-term survey at a pond at one of the UC nature reserves, when they funded my proposal to look at genetic diversity in Daphnia. Now I have the excuse (obligation?) to drive out once a month to sample.
  2. Educational Outreach Programs: My favorite K-12 outreach program (and I’ve participated in a bunch over the years) is the KiDS program, which is run at a low-income, minority-serving elementary school next to one of my study sites. The students first run their own 9-week experiment growing plants in serpentine and loamy soils. The curriculum was created by a past graduate student and aligns with 5th grade learning standards. On the last day of the program, we take them on a full-day field trip to a natural reserve 20-min down the road to see those serpentine soils! Kids spend the day outside participating in activities led by ecology PhD students, many of whom get to talk about the research experiments they’re doing at that very reserve.
  3. TA a field course: This requires some taxon specific knowledge, but maybe less than you would think if you’re enthusiastic about learning more about that group. If you’re on the fence, it might be worth talking to the professor who teaches the class. This job often comes with the responsibility of handling logistics of field trip planning but is definitely worth it when you get to teach outside.
  4. Follow empirical friends: Ask fellow graduate students if they could use a hand. But be prepared for less than ideal conditions. Some of my favorite memories are from doing this because unlike normal people who go out in nature when it’s nice outside, ecologists go out when it’s dark, buggy, and rainy. I’ve identified algae in the intertidal at 4am, I’ve caught honeybees on busy street corners, and I’ve measured plants during a storm. I have also been on the receiving end of this, where grad student friends hiked up mountains to help me and I can’t thank them enough.
  5. No reason needed: Keeping work and play separate can be a good thing. Sometimes doing “real” fieldwork can get stressful. Remembering to record a million details, needing that one last observation or collection to get equal sample sizes, keeping things alive or cold to bring back to lab …the list goes on. It’s easy to start to attach those anxious feelings to the environment. So, every once in a while, I take the time to be outside just for the fun of it and remind myself that one of the reasons I entered into a PhD in evolution and ecology is because of the inherent joy the natural world brings me.

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