Field Studies in Behavioural Ecology: Darwin
Health and wellbeing
Look after yourself: two weeks away
Two weeks is a long time to be away from support networks and students are strongly encouraged to think about how they will manage their physical and mental health while on the trip. Students will be asked to fill out a pre-excursion form and it is very important that you report any existing or potential health issues. This information will assist our first aid officers to support you if you require it. If you need assistance storing equipment or medication, you will need to discuss this before the trip. We can also arrange transport if you need to access medical facilities, however please be aware that the university's insurance policy does not cover pre-existing conditions.
During the course we will be working with animals in the field. Students will be given a schedule of activities before the trip and need to talk to the convenor before the trip if any may cause a risk to their physical or mental health. We will look for ways for you to safely participate, and if this isn't possible, can develop alternatives that allow you to sit out individual activities.
You will be living and working in close quarters with other students throughout the trip. For safety reasons, there are restrictions on when you can spend time on your own. The gardens at NARU are quiet and peaceful; students are welcome to wander around the grounds if they need some time alone. If you need more time alone or to make calls in private, please talk to the course convener and we will try to work something out.
You will work closely with the other members of your project team throughout the trip. As a group, you will plan your project, collect data and analyse the results. Staff members will guide you through this process and can help resolve disagreements between group members, however some people may find this level of collaboration particularly challenging. If you think this may be the case for you, please discuss this with the course convener prior to submitting an application.
You will be working and living alongside a small group of people for a considerable length of time. Students must act in a professional, respectful and responsible way at all times during the activity.
On a typical day, groups of students (4-6 per group) will travel by car to their field site (along with their tutor) and will collect data on their chosen project. There will be opportunities for students to take breaks. If you may have difficulties with physical and/or mental endurance, please talk to the course convener prior to submitting an application. Some projects are less demanding or have more opportunity for flexibility to allow for rest breaks during the trip.
The amount of time spent in the field, and the time of day spent in the field, will depend on the project selected. As a guide, students will spend four hours in the morning (8am - noon) and three hours in the afternoon (1 - 4pm) collecting data. There will be breaks for lunch and relaxing.
Students should wear light clothing (due to the heat). Students should bring their own sunscreen and insect repellent, and apply these on exposed parts of their bodies. When working in the tropics, some people opt to wear long sleeved shirts and trousers to avoid sunburn; others choose to wear shorts and a t-shirt (and apply sunscreen).
All clothes taken on the field trip should be casual, cheap or old. Fieldwork clothes may get damaged, sun-bleached or filthy.
Shoes should be open (due to the heat) but strapped to the foot (for ease of walking). Thongs can be worn at the research station, but strap-on sandels are best for the data collection trips.
Tasks and activities
Observing animals in the field
Data collection will generally involve observations and field experiments. Students with impaired senses can be assisted by other group members. Talk to the convener about the options prior to selecting a project, as there may be greater flexibility in some projects compared to others.
Depending on the project they have chosen, students may need to watch animals through binoculars; catch and mark animals; or set up experimental equipment. Students that find it difficult to complete these tasks can be assisted by others in the group. Students should speak to the convener before selecting a project if they may need assistance with any of these tasks.
Group discussions and tutorials will be held at the accommodation. Students will also be required to participate in discussions in a variety of forms (including small group discussions) while working in the field. If you think that you may have difficulty doing this, please discuss this with the course convener before submitting an application so we can investigate ways to help you.
Students will need to read the literature on their chosen topic of research, which can be accessed electronically. If you need articles in accessible formats, please discuss this with the course convenor prior to the trip.
Students may be required to take handwritten field notes and/or record data while working in the field. If you think that you may be unable to do this, please talk to the course convenor about alternatives (e.g. using an electronic device, recording verbal observations to write up later).
Students should bring their own laptop computers. They will need to write up reports, including the final report in the form of a publishable paper. The computer programs they will be required to use are: Word; Excel; and a statistical package of their choice (R, JMP, SPSS etc.)
This course involves students working on a single large project. Students will have the opportunity to choose from one of the project areas identified by the convenor and will plan their project during the pre-trip intensive. They are guided and supported by tutors throughout the process. Most of the work is done in close collaboration with 4-6 other group members. Each student is required to contribute to every stage of the group project (design, data collection, analysis, interpretation), but will work independently to write up the final report.
All students are expected to contribute equally to the project overall (but not necessarily to each phase of the process). Students with difficulties contributing to any phase of the project will have the opportunity to take on more duties in other phases.
Students have the opportunity to select the project they will work on. If they do not wish to handle live animals, they will have the option of selecting a project that does not require them to do this.
Some students may find it confronting to experiment on animals. None of the projects involve killing, harming or dissecting any animal. All projects are run on a strictly ethical basis: no harm is done to any animal, no excessive handling of animals or any unnecessary disturbance to animal's lives. All the projects will be run under animal ethics approvals.