What Makes A Decent Field Trip?

The joy of a science degree is the countless number of field trips one can go on. In my two years of Uni, I have been everywhere from Mudflats to tropical islands, with various subjects, doing multiple tasks.

No doubt, field trips give a student taste of real work- once we are out of uni and in the real world, what we can be doing with our life- collecting samples, traveling around, solving problems in the environment, etc. But is this such a good thing?

One of my subjects this semester is a geology course. As we have no other practicals for this course, the field trip held a high weighting on our overall mark. Dragging my arse to uni at 7.45am on a Saturday, my classmates and I piled onto a bus and headed down to our location of study. What followed was 8 hours of driving, stopping, looking at sediments, and then more driving. Ok, so some samples were collected in this time, but with no real idea of what we were to do with these sediments.

8.30 on Sunday, in other words, today, the class met up in the labs and proceeded to attempt to analyze the samples. Can we say disaster? Too many people, too many examples and not enough machinery meant that most of us left after 2 hours having achieved nothing, except to have vented a lot of frustration on the non-functional coke machine.

I left feeling that, while appearing useful from the outside, Field trips are just frustrating and irritating. To shake myself out of this negative thought frame, I have decided to glance back at previous trips and determine what makes a worthwhile field trip.

  1. While getting dirty on a field trip is fun, all well and good, forcing us to squish around for 3 hours in the mud looking at organisms on a hot afternoon is not. Thus I suggest banning dark areas from field trips. After all, Mud cakes onto our clothes and shoes, dry and becomes a pain in the arse (or a mess on the arse if, like me, you are prone to falling over on every field trip).
  2. Afternoon trips. Yep, this is where they try and squeeze a field trip into the three-hour time slot usually allocated for procs. This means we take not only our usual junk to uni for lectures in the morning, but we must remember any additional material for the prac. This usually also involves leaving half an hour or so earlier than usual starting time (oops, there goes my lunch break…) and getting back late (…and there goes my bus). They’re usually poorly organised, and the majority of us don’t want to be there- especially if they involve mud or standing around in the hot sun. Make it a full day and make it worthwhile.
  3. Some of the more enjoyable trips I have been on have involved an overnight stay. The first of which was an actual camping trip- tents and all. Overnight stays, while they may be inconvenient for the lecturer, anyone with children and those who work, allow bonding, friendships to grow within the class and more time for work to be spread out over the weekend. If trips are well organized, booze and decent food are brought by students and an enjoyable night around a cabin table, or all enjoy a campfire.

Orpheus Island

  1. A carefree attitude and willingness to joke around by the authority figures. This may seem small, but if one gets forced into the outback/mangroves/ onto an island for a few hours, or several days with a dragon of a lecturer, it will not be pleasant. By connecting with their students, and having fun, the lecturer gains respect and cooperation from his or her pupils. Some examples I have in my memory bank includes a very drunk subject coordinator doing the Haka, and many a rough card game with my chem professor.
  2. I can’t stress it enough; ORGANISATION is the key. No matter how great the field trip may sound on paper, if the class ends up sitting around for hours waiting for something to happen, or the lecturer forgets some critical point, nobody is going to enjoy themselves.

Patricia Berry

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