Field trip etiquette

Field trips are an integral and vital part of an entomologist’s work. It’s where we collect specimens, make in situ observations regarding behavior and a vast array of other important data. Typically, planning a field trip requires time, money and close coordination with all the participants, along with permits (for collection in protected areas and/or of endangered species) and special equipment in some cases. This means that even a short trip can be a logistical headache. In order to make the most out of it, everyone must be prepared to do their job from day one.

Here’s the catch: “Their job” is not only to do science. Living with other people for a specified period of time (days/weeks) requires much more effort than simply seeing them from 9 to 5 at the lab. It means cooking, cleaning, organizing and everything you’d do with housemates. If this doesn’t work out, then the research will also suffer. What’s worse, the longer the trip is, the more these things will annoy and upset everyone. So how do we avoid this?

There are simple guidelines one can follow to ensure that the trip goes as smoothly as possible. These are aimed at staying at a biological station instead of camping, but most are common to both.

  • Establish pet peeves before the trip starts: Some people hate being pranked, others can’t stand overcooked pasta and still others cringe at the thought of listening to classic rock instead of drum & bass during the road trip. Some of these are understandable, so there’s almost always a way to accommodate them, but others are a bit tougher. Discussing them beforehand saves bitter moments in the field.
  • Make sure everyone has chores to do: Everyone must do something during the trip. Leaving all chores to a select few (or in extreme cases, one person) creates tension and resentment. One of my most strictly enforced rules is “Whoever cooks does not do the dishes“. I also encourage everyone to do each chore at least once: cook, do the dishes, clean the bathrooms and the like, but sometimes people admit that they’re lousy at cooking, or that they simply don’t enjoy doing one chore, and different group members negotiate. In the end, whether everyone does everything or if they specialize in a single chore is not too important, as long as they contribute equally to getting the chores done.
  • Be polite, but firm, when correcting/enforcing: If someone didn’t clean the bathrooms (or their workspace) well, you can’t rage at them, as it accomplishes nothing productive. Instead, politely ask them to do it again. The same applies to enforcing schedules; if the group has to leave at 6:00 am and it looks like they won’t make it in time, then wake them up or pressure them, but politely. Don’t wait until it’s 5:55 and snap at them!
  • Realize that people need their space: Yes, you’ll be spending 24 hours a day in the same place, which can be great for socializing, but everyone needs some uninterrupted time alone to read, listen to music, write, take a nap or simply sit and stare at the wall. As long as it doesn’t interfere with field activities and chores, this alone time is key to a good mood from everyone.
  • No hogging collecting sites: Notoriously common in light traps or relatively small field locations, this is one of the biggest quarrel starters. People looking for a specific specimen will often call “The next [insert specific insect here] that falls in the light trap is mine!”, or will get territorial on a specific portion of the area where the group is collecting. I’ve found that helping others get the specimens they want/need is much better for morale and bonding. It’s tricky to balance collecting your own specimens and being altruistic, though.

I’m sure other people follow different rules; some groups prefer to individualize everything (everyone does their own cooking and cleaning, for example), while others have specific ways of dealing with problems (leaving tardy people instead of waiting 10 minutes). Which are your particular rules? Are there any important ones I missed? Let us know in the comments!

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