Bringing baby in the field, redux

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgHat tip to a reader who pointed me at this recent Chronicle article by two women scientists who tell their stories of bringing their infants along to their field research sites. And pretty hardcore stuff too. Two months in the Yukon studying snow for an assistant professor (Joan Ramage Macdonald), and peat bog research by a Ph.D. student (Maura Sullivan).

When I read the article, I felt a wave of familiarity wash over me. Minnow accompanied me in the field several times during my post-doc The story of her first field experience is here.

Below the fold, key recommendations from the Chronicle article and my own experience.

Key ingredients for a successful field experience with an infant:

  • Preparedness As Ramage Macdonald told doubters: “They have babies in the Arctic, too.”
  • Accommodating colleagues. My field compatriots were mostly moms themselves. Sullivan describes her advisor leading a class field trip with Sullivan’s baby on his front so that Sullivan could get some work done in the area.
  • Help with childcare from a family member when it’s just not feasible to strap baby on your back. For me, it was one day of multiple short stops in miserable weather. Fish and minnow stayed in the car, while another colleague and I accomplished the field work. Sullivan’s mother accompanied her on several field excursions and took care of baby back at camp, while Sullivan waded through chest-deep muck.
  • Reasonable expectations of yourself and your baby. Flexibility to change plans if needed.
  • Willingness to breastfeed or pump in all sorts of strange places.Ramage Macdonald describes pumping on snow banks. Brr!
  • “Evaluate the risks of potentially dangerous situations in the field. Don’t put the child or the group in danger.” (from Chronicle article, couldn’t have said it better myself)

Now, if anyone can show me a list of key ingredients for a successful field experience with a toddler, I’d be hugely grateful!


  1. #1 Lisa
    October 22, 2008

    Yea for multiple ways of making it work! I remember pumping outside in the snow last year, though I can’t remember exactly why . . . I think we were trying to catch a bus and it was late. It must be even colder in the Arctic, though!

  2. #2 merthan
    October 22, 2008

    ilk�ğretimde matematik etkinlikleri



  3. #3 Anonymous
    October 22, 2008

    In my experience, fieldwork with a toddler absolutely requires an extra set of hands. Fieldwork with two toddlers…maybe five extra sets of hands? I never figured that one out.

    The good news is that it gets easier again once they hit five or six.

  4. #4 Lab Lemming
    October 22, 2008
  5. #5 Addy N.
    October 23, 2008

    I never had to deal with field work after becoming a mother (most of my research is done sitting at a computer). I do know that some of our graduate students took their baby in the field a couple summers ago. Both parents went and there was at least one other grad student along (who told me that he fed the baby Cheerios in the field van as they drove across country!). I suspect that the parents took turns with their baby, but that it helped having accommodating friends along, too!

  6. #6 Mommyprof
    October 24, 2008

    I found myself much more willing to take Offspring on work things than I am Bun. Having a flexible Spouse who doesn’t really need to leave his office to get things done is a huge help. I can’t imagine pumping on snow. I’m thinking that would have been physiologically impossible for me…

  7. #7 Anonymous
    October 24, 2008

    I’m glad the authors mention that the experience can be good for the kids as well, beyond spending time with mom, especially if they usually live in an urban area. My kids have been to some spectacularly wild places tagging along with me and my husband while we do our fieldwork. They learn so much more about the world during these trips than (I suspect) they do in school. Just this morning, my three year old made her teddy bear squeak “like a pika.” (We don’t have a lot of pikas where we live…).

    Plus, they see that science can be really, really fun and (of course) family-friendly.

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