This weekend I came back from a three-week fieldtrip to Trinidad. We went there to collect behavioural data for our guppy research project. However, on the plane back I had some time to reflect on the past weeks and realized that fieldwork is about so much more than just collecting data points.
For me, I realized, fieldwork is about all the little big things that come along with it. For example, living closely with people who all contribute in their own unique ways: someone who plays the guitar in the evening, who bakes tasty tortillas for dinner, who makes funny jokes at the end of a hard working day or who takes the team on expeditions in search of remarkable birds, snakes, insects and spiders.
Its about the surprising new people you meet, which can result in eating ‘Guinness icecream’ and making Chinese dumplings while on a tropical island.
Its about seeing your entire fieldsite get flooded in about an hour and having to ‘survival’ your way out of the rainforest. And lying in a hammock shortly after.
Its about seeing all the other critters that occupy your fieldsite: the little greedy crab, the colourful jumpy lynx spider, the small vocal male frog (sometimes with tadpoles on its back), but also the forever annoying killifish and the hundreds of biting insects.
Its about getting to know a little patch of nature very well, but never completely. Its about learning about your study species by observing it in between the actual trials. Its about getting new exciting ideas for next year’s fieldtrip.
Its about all these things and so much more. So the next time you see the datapoints of a fieldstudy, remember that they are not just units of analysis, they are stories, experiences, insights and surprises as well. For me, each one is a reminder of why I love being a biologist.