Thursday, March 19, 2009

field break

In my last post, I discussed some of the scheduling issues that field scientists can have. One of the major problems is erratic field schedules. But you can have the inverse problem as well.
When you have a long-running project to manage, the tendency is to find a single field manager and keep them in the field nigh-indefinitely. There are two major problems with this.

First, you want to be able to trade out personnel in case your primary field manager goes on vacation or becomes sick or has a family emergency. Yes, sometimes life happens to even childless, single folks. Having all institutional knowledge in one person is never smart planning.

Second, if people are in stressful, long-term field projects far away from home, they tend to get cranky after a while. Eventually their performance starts to suffer, and they start threatening rebellion.

I recommend giving folks in long-term field assignments a “vacation”. If they’re involved in a complicated project, pick a time when things have settled down and let someone else take over for a while. It will give them a break and will give less experienced folks a chance to be in charge of another site. If you have 2 or more long-term field projects and at least one of those projects is within reasonable commuting distance, rotate your field personnel. That is, unless the person in Timbuktu has fallen in love with the place and truly never wants to leave.

I’ve known folks who had never left the country before they started fieldwork, and now they’ve lived and worked in completely different cultures. It’s a terrific experience. But it doesn’t need to become a permanent experience.

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