The Best Piece of In-Field Research Equipment? Yourself!

At MWSRP we’re always looking for bits of equipment that can either make our work in the field more scientifically virile, more exciting, or – if we’re being honest – easier! Why bust your lungs using a tape when you can point a laser?! Quite a lot of the time we allow ourselves to drift into the optimistic world of grand schemes with the fantastical kit more suited to the budgets and capabilities of large universities.  And then there’s Richard’s obsession with octocopers…

It dawned on me one day in the field that there is one piece of field research equipment whose good operation is more critical to achieving research aims than any other bit; yourself.

Sure, at MWSRP we’d be struggling to do much without an operational boat. And things wouldn’t be too productive without underwater cameras either. But all these things share the common need of having a functioning human to operate them.

My epiphany came as I was putting aftersun onto some outrageous sunburn. It was the kind of sunburn that makes you feel a bit faint. That night, as we gathered to put the day’s measurements and recordings into the database I was feeling shattered, I hurt and generally didn’t feel so good. I made my excuses and retreated to somewhere with AC and aloe vera. Fortunately the team was there and carried on in my absence, the work got done and the data from that day sits proudly as a dated line in our records. But what if it had just been me there? No support? I probably would have said “I’ll do it in the morning”. The problem with that though is my brain is like an old fashioned tape recorder – new information simply overwrites the old and I forget stuff. The information I would have put in the following morning would not have been as precise as it would have been when it was fresh in the mind and my laziness with the sun cream would have been at direct fault for an erosion in the detail of data from that day.

My point is that no matter what or how good the equipment you have is, as a field researcher the quality of your work and its effects on your outputs are reliant on you operating it all well. This means taking care of yourself too. Protect yourself from the effects of the elements in your working environment, keep yourself hydrated and fed as best you can, sleep if your project allows and make time for sleep if it doesn’t. I know I’d rather be given a diagnosis from a fresh looking Doctor than from one who is bleary eyed, sunburnt and has that white-stuff-that-forms-on-your-lips-when-you’re-really-thirsty thing on the go. You’d definitely be questioning the latter’s thoughts, and it’s the same when you come to compile and report your findings from the field and know there were times when you were done-in. “Er… did I really mean 15 that day?!”.

So if you’re planning a project and compiling a kit list (or maybe coming out to join the MWSRP in the Maldives!) or even just going on holiday and operating a camera, remember to include articles for self preservation and put them at the top of the list!