Fieldwork Safety Materials

Guided Community Discussion for Designing Safe and Inclusive Field Research

Written by Gretchen Gerrish and Ashley Trudeau

If you have any questions about these materials or additional resources that you would like to add, please contact Gretchen Gerrish (

Field work is an important component of limnology research for many working groups. Completing fieldwork as undergraduate technicians and researchers is frequently a student’s first introduction to research. Field work can be both exciting and uncomfortable, and this combination of characteristics can result in strong social bonds and increased motivation to pursue research as a career (e.g. Boyle and Martin, 2003). However, fieldwork experiences can also be frightening and alienating, especially when students do not feel like they are part of a supportive community. Alienating or hazardous fieldwork experiences are particularly dangerous for students coming from marginalized backgrounds (Demery and Pipkin, 2020; Morales et al., 2020). Community building before beginning field work is therefore an important activity for ensuring the safety and retention of students and researchers from all backgrounds. Pre-fieldwork meetings to discuss concerns and develop principles of good community practice for the upcoming work have the dual purpose of promoting social bonds and establishing clear expectations for conduct in the field. These community discussions also apply to research settings beyond field work, such as laboratory spaces.


Boyle, A., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., Rawlinson, S., Turner, A., Wurthmann, S., and Conchie, S., 2007. Fieldwork is good: the student perception and the affective domain. J. Geogr. High. Educ. 31(2): 299-317.

Demery, A.-J.C., Pipkin, M.A., 2020. Safe fieldwork strategies for at-risk individuals, their supervisors and institutions. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1–5.

Morales, N., O’Connell, K.B., McNulty, S., Berkowitz, A., Bowser, G., Giamellaro, M., Miriti, M.N., 2020. Promoting inclusion in ecological field experiences: Examining and overcoming barriers to a professional rite of passage. Bull. Ecol. Soc. Am. 101, e01742.

Suggested Sequence for Pre-Fieldwork Discussion:

  1. Self-reflection

Before gathering for discussion, each team member should take time to reflect on their own identities, privileges, and biases. This may take the form of select readings followed by questions for each team member to consider before a pre-fieldwork meeting. Alternatively, or in addition, identity exercises completed individually or as a group may facilitate this process.

Selection of potential readings (not comprehensive):

  • Resources for facilitating inclusive and accessible fieldwork from AdvanceGeo:
  • Excellent guide on safety for at-risk groups in the field
  • Inclusive ecology field courses for undergrads
    • Morales, N., Bisbee O’Connell, K., McNulty, S., Berkowitz, A., Bowser, G., Giamellaro, M., & Miriti, M. N. (2020). Promoting inclusion in ecological field experiences: Examining and overcoming barriers to a professional rite of passage. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America101(4), e01742.
    • McGill, B. M., Foster, M. J., Pruitt, A. N., Thomas, S. G., Arsenault, E. R., Hanschu, J., Wahwahsuck, K., Cortez, E., Zarek, K., Loecke, T.D., & Burgin, A. J. (2021). You are welcome here: considerations of diversity, equity, and inclusion for embracing new ecologists. Ecology and Evolution, 11(8): 3636-3645.
  • More general steps:
  • Prevalence of harassment and assault in the field:

Questions to consider: 

  • What aspects of your social identity grant you privilege?
  • What aspects of your identity leave you at risk? (in general or in the field)
  • Were you surprised by the experiences described in the reading? How may your perception of fieldwork safety be influenced by your personal identity and experiences?
  • What are your concerns and worries regarding field work, and how do these intersect with your identities?
  • What can you do to help colleagues who are experiencing discrimination, harassment, or violence?

Identity exercises:

2. Group discussion

Before beginning field work, a full-team meeting (or multiple meetings) is a great opportunity to establish a safety plan and document principles of good community practice.

Suggested sequence for safety plan:

  1. What are everyone’s concerns going into fieldwork?
    1. In addition to group discussion of these concerns, provide an opportunity for anonymous contributions. Team members may not want to publicly divulge aspects of their identity that put them at risk of discrimination and harassment. New team members may also be uncomfortable opening up about concerns that they fear are embarrassing.
  2. Consolidate concerns by theme. (e.g. living conditions, weather, outdoor dangers, negative interactions with the public, social conflict, making mistakes, medical emergencies)
  3. For each theme, develop potential scenario(s). As a group, work through:
    1. The risks present in the scenarios
    2. Ideas and contingencies for how the group should respond
  4. Decide on group safety measures, including but not limited to:
    1. List of emergency contacts and ways of communication (consider cell phone access, personal vs. university provided methods, data limits, etc.) Group identification (sampling permits, identifying badges/hats/etc) on public and private properties, and differences in group identification between these scenarios.
      1. In cases where solo fieldwork cannot be avoided, what additional safety measures should be implemented?
    2. Basic field preparation. What do you need to bring for a typical day of field work? (water, meals, bug spray, sun screen, waders, etc) What to bring and what the lab can provide.
      1. Outdoor equipment is not universally owned and usually expensive. Consider making a plan for how team members can borrow equipment rather than being required to purchase their own.
      2. Clothes, bathrooms, lactation, and menstruation products in the field
    3. Mandatory and suggested training (e.g. CPR, special equipment, medical access)
      1. Bystander intervention training resources:
      2. Relevant sections of the CFL handbook:
        1. Animal care and occupational health
        2. Boat use and safety
        3. Chemical and lab safety
        4. Human subjects protocols
        5. Scientific collector permits
        6. SCUBA
        7. Trout Lake Station User Guide
        8. CFL Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Suggestions
        9. Vehicle Use
        10. For NSF-funded projects: Responsible Conduct of Research Training

Principles of good community practice:

  • Community expectations should fit within the CFL code of conduct, but their goal is to make expectations clear and specific to project needs and to open discussion to community participants.
  • Review any official codes of conduct for the field site or station, if applicable.
  • Discuss as a group: what expectations do we have for trainees, supervisors, and the community overall? How can we hold each other accountable for these expectations?
  • Regarding the goals of the research itself: what measures can be put in place to ensure consistent collection of quality data? How do concerns about data quality and ethics overlap or interact with safety concerns and community expectations?
  • Community expectations should be customized to your lab group’s needs, but example documents can be found here.

For edits to this webpage, contact Kelly O’Ferrellupdated 11/23/22