Reflect on your own
What processes and procedures can you implement to care for yourself and your colleagues’ physical and emotional safety in the field?
How might your prior experiences and understandings of other cultures impact or even bias your research?
What additional information and resources can you gather to better prepare you for research in the field?
Many faculty, staff and students conduct their research outside of UBC’s laboratories, libraries or workplace settings.
Different disciplines often use different approaches to observe and collect research data about people, cultures or natural environments when conducting fieldwork.
Safeguarding the integrity of the research process and results, as well as the value of the research itself, requires us to develop our skills in fieldwork methodologies, and to take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of ourselves, our partners, research participants and the environments we encounter in the field.
Seek training and information before you begin
The validity and rigour of your research findings will depend greatly on the quality of raw data that you gather in the field. Seek training in methodologies appropriate to your field research and be aware of their limitations. Keep an open mind and curious disposition to experiences that may not be comfortable or familiar, especially when working in new cultural settings, to mitigate our own biases. Reaching out to people at your research site and speaking to researchers who have previously conducted fieldwork in your discipline can help you to better prepare for your own fieldwork experience.
Complete a field safety plan for both physical and emotional health
We are responsible to take precautions that support health and safety before, during, and after returning from, research in the field. When creating safety, communication and emergency response plans for each field participant, consider incorporating plans for how to support psychological wellbeing, especially when the work takes place in an unfamiliar location and/or for extended periods. Creating a plan to support physical as well as emotional safety during fieldwork also supports us to research with appropriate rigour, follow established legal and procedural protocols, and ultimately protect the integrity of our research.
Keep detailed field notes and records
The accuracy and reliability of our field notes depend on us regularly and thoroughly capturing detailed and descriptive information in the field. Maintaining a parallel record of our reflections on the fieldwork experience can help us to realize the potential influence of our own unconscious biases when we later analyze and interpret the data we captured in the field. Being aware of how our identities and biases can influence our understanding of the world helps us to research with integrity
The emotional toll of fieldwork
Field research is often conducted in unfamiliar environments and contexts, potentially leaving us feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. Build strategies to support your mental health and wellbeing into your field safety plan. For example, facilitating a debrief with your team to discuss your experience during your fieldwork, and if or how those aspects may play a role in your research.
Even with careful planning and preparation, it’s not always possible to anticipate every situation we might encounter. Developing our practical and technical skills by participating in workshops and training in advance of our departure, accessing support to cultivate our emotional resilience, as well as seeking clarification if we’re unsure of the details in our field safety plan, can help prepare us to make informed decisions and respond well when unexpected events do occur.
The developed content is adapted from the following:
- Yin, R. K. (2016). Qualitative research from start to finish (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- University of British Columbia (n.d.). Travel and Field Safety.
- University of British Columbia (2012). Student Safety Aboard (Policy No. SC12). Vancouver, BC. Office of University Counsel.