03 Nov For the love of it
It has been too long since I sat down to write a blog but an early start to the field survey season will do that to you.
Even now, I am typing away between unpacking and packing for the next excursion.
One aspect of consulting that is not often considered by those who undertake a career in this industry, is just how much time we spend away from our ‘homes’. This can be an ever-present issue for many and can lead to a resentment of the work we have chosen to do.
Personally, being in the field is a great feeling. I find it exciting as it gives me an insight into the diversity of habitats and their individuals contained within. Just by being there you cannot help but observe the changes and processes in these dynamic environment. This ‘exposure’ to the diversity and the mechanics of non-human dominated environs imposes a much different perspective and knowledge that is impossible to garner from nature documentaries, Wikipedia, scientific journals, and certainly not from the comforts of any office.
I have always urged anyone who wanted to follow a career in biological consulting to spend as much time in the field as they possibly could. For a zoologists that would equate to at least three full biodiversity trapping survey events a year, and much more being the preferred option. There is no documented basis for that number, just that it is likely to give you enough continued exposure to “natural environments”.
But with that level of field work (and more in some cases), you do pay a price. Being in the field is hard physical work. Regardless of your fitness, the body will, at some stage in your life, start to feel the stresses that had been placed on it. This can manifest in activities such as finding it harder to walk up those hills, or digging in traps not being as easy as it used to be. Nor are we as enthusiastic about those long walks. This is normal. It is the passing of time, our level of enthusiasm, our mental health, our age. But there is one upside, if you’re diligent about your field work, it is likely you will try and keep relatively healthy and that is always a good thing.
Similarly, the mental preparation for being in the field is very important. A field worker is out in the field because apart from the more obvious reasons of employment and fiscal reward, they want to be there to see and absorb the habitats, plants and animals they encounter. A loss of that desire is problematic. Once out there, you are committed to the project. You become part of the team and need to work with that group to safely, efficiently and effectively achieve the goals of that project.
But sometimes it can be hard. It may only be a temporary state of mind. You may just need a break to refresh; which can happen if you find yourself just jumping from one survey to another without any time or sense of rest in between. If the feeling of “not wanting to be there” is pervasive and very long lasting, then it does become an issue of the quality of work that you can achieve and believe me, if your heart in not in it, the levels of quality will be measured in fathoms. In such cases, you do have to think hard about taking an enforced break from the work and then deciding on your future. Sometimes this could just take a few days, sometimes years.
All of these issues afflict us at different times over our careers and can seep into our non-working lives. This is where we need to think about our work-life balance. We have to find ways of recharging our batteries and to ensure that we continue to love the work we have chosen to do. This can take various avenues. I have see some work on their fitness or involve themselves in sports or a hobby. Others find that “holidays” help them and it may just be as simple as booking into a hotel for a few days just to feel like you are as far from the stresses as is possible. Similarly, I have colleagues who just travel between gigs. They just pack up and leave for a couple of weeks on their own or with their partner.
Certainly, in the zoological field, field work is very much a seasonal event (or it should be, if science drives the work) and there should be down-times between field work. A knowledgeable workplace should accommodate the seasonality of the work and allow its field staff to recover from the physical and mental strains and stresses of field work.