Fieldwork: The pleasures and the perils

Above: Image © Joel Carillet, iStockphoto

Are you thinking of becoming a chemist? An ecologist? A sociologist? An anthropologist? If you’re thinking of careers in science or social science, you’ll probably have to do fieldwork as part of your job.

Fieldwork is exactly what it sounds like: leaving your lab or office, and going out into the “field” to do research. But fieldwork doesn’t just happen in fields. It can be conducted at a busy city intersection, or in the most remote places in the world. It can include interviewing people, watching animals, or taking water samples. Research done in the field can help plan cities, ensure safe drinking water for residents, track endangered species, and fight climate change.

Fieldwork can be exciting and fun. However, it also comes with risks. Researchers working in the field can experience severe weather conditions, encounter dangerous animals, or contract viruses. For example, field ecologists working in tropical environments often encounter lots of mosquitoes. These mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and Zika virus.

What are some of the different methods to prevent mosquito bites? Why do these methods work? How do chemicals like DEET prevent mosquito bites?

Unfortunately for some biologists, such as those conducting fieldwork in small tropical streams, commercial insect repellent can harm animals living in the stream.

What are some alternative ways to repel mosquitoes without affecting nearby insects, fish and amphibians? Why is it important to not handle fish or amphibians after applying insect repellent?

Learn More!

About fieldwork:

Discover Anthropology Fieldwork (2016)
Royal Anthropological Institute

Fieldwork (2016)
British Columbia

Fieldwork (2016)
National Geographic

How to do Fieldwork (2015)
The American Folklife Center

Field Research (2013)
Child Care & Early Education Research Connections

Institute for Field Research

Project Field Research
The Genographic Project, National Geographic

Scientific Research
EarthWatch Institute

About careers involving fieldwork:

About insect repellent:

Heather Auld


My name is Heather, and I am a PhD student in the Biology Department at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada where I study how an individual's environment influences their behaviour. Most of my research is done in Trinidad, The West Indies, but I love to travel to all different kinds of ecosystems.

I also work on CurioCity as a Science Editor and to help bring you the most interesting stories and breakthroughs happening in science! I volunteer with Let's Talk Science as an outreach volunteer in Ottawa and rural Ontario. 

I love to observe and photograph the amazing animals and landscapes from around the world. 

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