Lessons from Packing for Field Research

recently-updated140-650x840So two weekends ago, I had to help a couple lab members get ready for their research field campaign. It was quite a learning experience, if I do say so myself, especially because I will have to be doing the same for my field work in a few short months. Anyway, because I found the experience so humorous and insightful, I thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learned with those who are or are planning to be in disciplines that do a lot of field work.

Lesson 1: If it’s not bolted down, take it with you

My lab has a tendency to build our own instruments since the compounds we study can’t usually be analyzed by instruments on the market. And of course, with awesome engineering comes the ability for things to break. Therefore, every single toolbox, electronics box and potential spare part we could find was packed up and taken (I’m not exaggerating, either). But even if you’re lab doesn’t build their own instruments, there are still plenty of things to take in order to collect samples, perform data analysis or just have that rusted spare part that’s been laying on the floor for over a decade…you know, just in case.

Lesson 2: Perfect your Tetris skills

Because you’re trying to fit an infinite amount of lab stuff in a finite amount of storage space, you must hone in your Tetris skills to make everything fit. That means arranging and rearranging boxes into impossible configurations until you begin to defy the laws of physics and make your storage box the equivalent of Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Don’t worry though, it’s much easier than it sounds. 🙂

Lesson 3: Bubble wrap everything

Also, since you’ve decided the best approach to packing is to Tetris everything into boxes, you may have realized that the fragile things don’t always end up on the top. This is why bubble wrap is your friend. You have a much better chance of finding intact glassware and other breakable items if you wrap it in sheets and sheets of bubble wrap, newspaper and even decade old packing peanuts you found in a drawer. Trust me, that’s a lot easier than redoing your Tetris magic.

Lesson 4: Organize the chaos as much as possible

In the field, you only have so much time to prepare before the first sampling/experiment day comes. Therefore, even if you’ve shoved every knick knack and doohickey into unlabeled boxes which have then been placed in even more unlabeled boxes, you should at least know which of these boxes has the most important things in it. That way, you can get it out, set it up and start some nifty science as soon as possible.

Lesson 5: Accept the fact something will be forgotten

But of course, ultimately you know that this is probably the worst way to pack for a field campaign, because everything is unlabeled and randomly scattered about. Hence, there is always a chance that you forgot something important, such as a power cord or that very specific, special ordered item that you must have in order to turn on your instrument or collect your sample. In this case, either improvise with some science magic or bother the lab members you left back home until they begin to roll their eyes at your constant emails. It’s okay. They’ll still love you in the end.

Have any lessons from your experiences with field work? Feel Fred to leave them down in the comments!

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