Research can take on many forms and occur in a variety of locations. We can conduct research through controlled experiments in sterile labs, or by closely reading of historical texts found in archives, among other research methods. Research can also occur “in the field.” This type of research is often called fieldwork, field research, or field study. Fieldwork in natural sciences like biology, geology, or ecology is used to understand how natural environments function. It involves the observation and collection of data about organisms and habitats in their everyday settings.
Fieldwork requires a good deal of preparation. Along with planning accommodations, food, clothing, medical supplies, and the other usual travel needs, researchers conducting fieldwork also have to prepare for their on-site scientific investigations. To do this, they bring all the necessary gear required for observing, recording, collecting, etc. Some of the standard equipment is more highly specialized and expensive like GPS and certain measuring devices. However, most of the tools used in field work are similar to items easily purchased at your local grocery or hobby store. This means that we can actually make low-cost versions of these fieldwork kits to use in our very own backyards.
DIY Field Kit
When you are out in the field, your main task is to detect or discover. You might want to look for a particular species or maybe a pattern of interactions. To do this, you can mostly rely on your own senses of sight, smell, touch, and hearing (taste might also be useful in some instances, but we advise against tasting anything without consulting a professional). However, it can be helpful to have some tools that enhance your observational senses.
- Binoculars and/or Magnifying Glass – Though our eyes are useful tools, they sometimes need help seeing things outside our normal abilities during observation. Binoculars are helpful for seeing higher detail of things in the distance. Magnifying glasses help enlarge finer details on objects up close.
- Naturalist Guide Book or App – Print and online guides for observing can aid in knowing what to look for, where to look, and identifying what you observe. There are numerous options available at your local library as well as retailers.
After you have observed something new, exciting, or simply something you want to remember, you need to record information about your findings. This step is key for future comparison, developing plans for ongoing observation, and keeping track of the things you have already observed.
- Pencils and Pens– Always have a few writing implements with you during field work. You would not want to be empty handed when you see something important!
- Notepad or Notebook – Smaller sizes can be more convenient for storage and movement in the field. However, any size will do. You will want to record the date, location, and details about your observations in the field in these notebooks. These entries can include sketches, descriptions of sights/sounds/smells/etc., and any other details that you find important.
- Ruler or Measuring Tape (optional) – If you want to be fairly precise in your notes, you might want to have a tool for measuring specimens.
- Camera (optional) – A camera can be useful for documenting a scene or specimen in nature. If you plan to use a camera, be careful with any sudden or invasive movements that might disturb the scene you hope to capture.
Collecting samples may be useful for continued examination.
- Gloves – Unless you know exactly what you are collecting, it is always a good idea to protect yourself. Use gloves when interacting with your samples.
- Scissors – Depending on what you collect, scissors may not be necessary.
- Glass and/or Plastic Containers – You will need some place to store your samples once collected. Rigid, hard containers will better ensure the safety of your samples, but plastic bags can also be used.
- Labeling Marker and Tape – Always make sure to label your samples with date and location information. This way, you can more easily identify and compare your samples with your notes and other samples.
And last, but not least is the most important tool in your field kit… Patience. Patience is not technically a tool you can purchase, but it is extremely important for field work. It can sometimes take days, weeks, or even years to observe certain phenomena.
Now, put all these items in a case of your choosing (one with sections for organization, if possible) and see what you can find!
This activity was written by Jane Thaler, a Gallery Presenter in the museum’s LifeLong Learning Department.