Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Qualities of a good field biologist.

This post is to discuss some of the qualities a person must have to become a proper field biologist. I'm writing this according to my own understanding of the field and what I have come across during my field work. Though I'm still an amateur in the field, personal experiences has proved to me that these are some of the essentials to be a better field biologist.
First of all lets see who a field biologist is.
A field biologist is a biologists who use nature as a laboratory and combine the principles of biology with other sciences to study the diversity and interactions of plants, animals and microorganisms in their natural environment. Thus field biologists include zoologists, botanists, microbiologists, ecologists, ethologists, marine biologists, paleontologists, conservation biologists etc.

A field biologist works in the natural environment most of the time. Therefore the following qualities will help him/her to work with both nature and people.

Physical fitness : Field work often includes working for long hours, trekking in wilderness
and sometimes even mountain climbing. Therefore enough physical fitness to carry your own weight, back packs, instruments etc for hours or even for days in any terrain is a must for a field biologist.

Ability to work in unfavorable conditions : Depending on the purpose of your study field works has to be carried out in various ecosystems ranging from deserts to misty mountains. If the study is done throughout the year it will include working under various conditions in both wet and dry seasons. Thus working in extremely dry, warm, cold, rainy and misty conditions can be involved in your work. Therefore the ability to withstand any of this conditions up to a certain extent is important.

Basic survival skills : Field studies always involves
outdoor life. Thus some basic skills on camping, hiking, first
aid, dealing with wild animals and extreme weather etc. is clearly an advantage for a field biologist.

Been systematic : What we primarily do in the field is collecting and recording data we need for the particular studies we are involved with. The data collection and recording has to be done in a systematic manner to minimize errors and unnecessary confusions. Therefore been systematic will always help for a field biologist to do there field work properly.

Critical thinking : Nature is not a controlled environment like a laboratory. The conditions we face there may alter from moment to moment. Also the dangers you may face are numerous. Storms, snake bites, animal attacks are just a few examples. If some one is good in critical thinking he/she can handle any of these situation with minimum risk of been harmed. Thus its a good quality a field biologist should have.

Team spirit : Almost all the time field studies are carried out as a team. Every member of the field team has a certain role to play for the common goal. So a field biologist must always fulfill his/her duty to the team and care for all the members. Personal needs should not come in front of the needs of whole team.

Patience : Field work often requires long hours of working. If you are observing the behaviors of a particular animal or a population for a certain time period the ability to be patient for the whole duration of working hours is really helpful to obtain the data required for the study properly. Sometimes you won't come across the subject of interest so easily, especially if your working regarding a rare species. We have to be patient in such situation and continue the work until we complete the necessary field work and gather enough data.

Punctuality : Any research has a defined methodology designed to obtain the data necessary for the study and to analyse them. These methodologies usually define the limits and boundaries of the research and provide a set of instructions that must be followed precisely. Time period that data collecting is carried out has a significant important to the analysis and the final result you obtain. Therefore a good field biologist must be able to be punctual and carry out the data collecting process only within the determined time duration. Not a second less, not a second more.

Simple life style : If you wanna have meals from KFC, McDonald's or Pizza hut every day and sleep in a comfortable bed every night then the field of field biology isn't the suitable path for you. A field biologist must always be satisfied with the available resources because resources are limited when you are working in the field. Specially if your spending a long time continuously in remote areas. So one must have the ability to adapt to a simple lifestyle during the time spent in the field.

Documentation skills and computer literacy : Data collecting in the field always involves noting down necessary data arranged in to a systematic way. To obtain every important information on what you observe, its better to keep everything written in your field note book while observations are made thus data can be retrieved easily when you get back to base camp/home/university etc. Then the data must be managed properly using a digital database or any other suitable option. To do all these, a field biologist must have some documentation skills and basic computer literacy. Advanced knowledge on database management and GIS is an additional help.

Communication skills : A scientist distribute the knowledge they gained by writing research papers, articles, books or presenting them in a research symposium or a conference. Therefore one must have good communication skills to present their findings in any suitable media. Apart from this, good writing and verbal communication skills will help to communicate with co-workers, supervisors, authorities, fellow scientists etc. regarding your study.

Been fully field geared : When a field biologists goes to the field he must always carry all the necessary field gears for the particular study. The things you need depends on the terrain, climate, habitat etc. Though the instruments and some other stuff will be provided to you if the project has a fund for it, the things that is important for your personal needs and safety must be taken with you. It makes sure that you won't get in to unnecessary troubles by been careless. For an example if you are working in an area where poisonous snakes can be found you must wear a pair of protective boots to prevent snake bites. If not, there's a probability of you been bitten by a snake due to your carelessness and that will affect on the schedules and plans of the whole field team.

Enthusiasm for learning : No man stops learning until the final day of his life. But a scientist, including a field biologist is a bit different from this. They do learn everyday but not just by chance. They must learn with a proper intention and a never ending enthusiasm. Been updated about latest findings, current status of relevant issues and ongoing research activities will give them the chance to develop their understanding in the relevant disciplines and direct his/her research in the right direction to obtain a significant result.

Obedience to the law : Every field biologist must obey the laws of the country when carrying out their studies. Permission must be obtained before hand a project for necessary requirements like collecting specimens and working in a protected area. Trespassing in to a protected area or a private land without permission, collecting specimens from such areas without obtaining a proper permission or been involved in any sort of illegal action for the sake of his/her research is highly unethical thing for a field biologist.

Passion : None of the above qualities will make you a good field biologist if you don't possess the passion for the field. One must have a passion to learn new things, to study the natural aspects and contribute to the development of science through their work. The passion cannot be learnt, bought or obtained by any other means..it must come from your own heart.

These are some of the qualities one must have to develop themselves in order to become a better field biologist. This list doesn't end from here. There are many other qualities that can be included in to a list like this. But I hope that this provides a general idea on what you should develop in your self to become a better field biologist and excel in your work.


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