Field Work: How To Stay Organized and Plan Efficiently

July 10, 2019

           Hello everyone! It has been awhile has it not! I will say, the month of July has been crazy with lunar sample return analogue workshops, research paper revisions and graduate student-led projects, and on top of everything I have been planning for my field deployment in Iceland. The countdown is 15 days from today. During that time I will be completing final travel preparations, going over the field deployment gear list and safety equipment, and ensuring a primary and secondary science plan is written up. It has been a lot of work making sure everything is in order for Iceland and making sure the team and myself know our science plans before we are in the field at Holuhraun. Besides my science plan, I learned a few of new tricks for planning logistics and I wanted to share them with you all today.


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Organization is Key

          I think the number one rule everyone should stick to when in charge of logistics, whether it is field work, conferences, or holidays, is to stay organized! I keep records of ALL field team members on a computer and a printed copy with their emergency contacts, phone numbers, allergies, and field role. I keep travel receipts, meal plan inventory, field gear lists, and safety forms with the address and contact number of local hospitals and emergency rooms together in a travel package. This makes it easy for me to access them during the commute to the airport, waiting a the gate in the airport, and in the destination country. You never know when you will need them before, during, or after field work! 


Keep your Receipts

          If you work with a government department or at a university you have probably been told this a hundred times, please keep receipts of any purchases during your trip. I like to keep records of EVERY receipt I collect from purchases even when I am absolutely sure I do not need it (trust me, you will always have that one personnel in finances asking for a receipt even though it is not required). The receipts come in handy for reimbursements of meals, field equipment that will be put forward for future field work, accommodation, travel (car, bus, plane, etc), and travel necessities (when I say necessities I mean important items or packages that will help you in the field, e.g. mobile phone travel packages for communication). I have learned from experience that when you are told "oh you do not have to bring a receipt back after your field work" you should anyway as a precaution. This will ensure you are reimbursed quickly and with minimal issues with your institution finance services.


How to Keep Track Of Inventory

          I will say this loudly and proudly, I LOVE making lists to keep track of items or events. I know, nerd alert, but hey I embrace my organized self. When you have dozens of items you need for the field or any research travel plans you want to know what is a mandatory or must have item! This is especially important when you have limited baggage space or funding to purchase or rent some of the items. I have been extremely beneficial to get a pre-made field gear list from the NASA Goddard team that is going to be in the field with us in Iceland this year, which has made planning for the field a bit easier for me. Normally though I write out what items I definitely need to take into the field because I want to make sure I am prepared for whatever the elements throw at me (thunderstorms, gale winds and rain, scorching sun, dust storms, snowfall, etc).

          I assign items a label: must-have, recommended, or perhaps/if convenient. Must-have items are items that are required for the field. Recommended items are items that you should pack if you own them or have the funds to purchase them. They are not mandatory but they will make work easier for you. I always check off everything labelled as must-have and usually everything labelled recommended because it is good to be prepared. Perhaps items are bonus items. For example, you are about to go camping and have a well-insulated sleeping bag but you like an extra layer to make your sleep a lot more comfortable. You could pack something such as a sleeping bag liner to achieve this comfort. Although not labelled as a must-have or recommended item it can still benefit you in the field. Perhaps items should only be packed however if you have space in your bags or have the funds to purchase them. I would not prioritize them but everyone is different when it comes to working in the field, so something I would say is not a priority may be a priority to someone else.


Vehicle Insurance

          I am new to renting vehicles, so I had to make sure I knew what insurance I needed for field work. You want to know the environment of where you are going, e.g. urban, rural, desert, tundra, forest, mountains, etc. You also want to know in advance about any obstacles you may have to overcome, e.g. shallow rivers to cross, narrow roads on the sides of mountains, poorly maintained concrete and dirt roads, etc. The environment will have a significant impact on your vehicle, and if you are renting it you want to make sure you have the correct insurance to cover any damage that may be inflicted onto the vehicle. Most rental companies such as enterprise already add all of the necessary insurance for you but you should still check because they may have not added a type of insurance you may need or added one that is not necessary. For example, I was recommended by my teams collaborator Dr Christopher Hamilton that in Iceland, enterprise will ask if you want sand damage insurance. Apparently, you pay a lot of money to cover a type of damage that may not happen whilst in the field. You should be aware of what insurance you are paying for and double check to see if it is the correct one for you and your team.



          Lastly (probably one of the most important tips besides organization) it is vital you have a strong communication with your team, collaborating teams (if any), and booked travel companies and accommodations. I like to know what everyone's stand point is about our travels to and from the field. I want to know if they have concerns I can address such as is there something we should bring to the field that is not on the gear list, if we arrive early will the guesthouse allow us to leave our baggage at the front desk until check-in, or how are the teams organized in the field. I never go somewhere blind (figuratively speaking haha) because I do not like not knowing what is going to happen. This is mostly the reason why I hate it when airlines failure to explain why a flight is delayed for hours.

          As I mentioned in the organization section, I keep a record of everyone's phone numbers in case I have to phone them in the field. Other methods of communication when in the field are walkie-talkie's. They are light, practical and allow quick lines of communication with a team member within range. 



          So there you have it, a few tricks and tips for planning logistics for field work or other research related travels. I am not saying I am an expert on logistical planning, I still have a lot to learn but I wanted to share with you all what I have learned and how it might help you in the future. If you have any questions about my planning routine or thought process, or have advice on how I can improve to make logistical planning even more efficient please leave a comment on the post :)


          See you all soon! I am going to post a lunar research themed blog up shortly :D  

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