A few years ago, I was spending time with some geologists and they were telling me about Field Camp. That it’s a standard requirement of most Geoscience programs, but also that it’s highly problematic.
I just googled a bit, here’s what I learned. According to UW Milwaukee, “Field camp is a tradition in the education of a geologist. It is an intensive course that applies classroom and laboratory training to solving geological problems in the field.”
Gotcha. My colleagues are saying how problematic field camp is, but I don’t quite see it yet. Could you tell me more?
According to Tulane, “These courses, usually known as Field Camps, are generally offered during the summer term and range from 4-7 weeks. Most students complete this requirement the summer after their junior year.”
Ah, so students are spending one or two months in the summer at a field site learning field techniques. I can imagine this has a lot of traditional appeal. There must be a lot of nostalgia about old school geology and running field camps?
I see. How are students expected to pay for this? Is it part of financial aid? No? There are scholarships, though? A few? That’s nice.
As far as I can tell — and let me know if I’m wrong here — it seems that students are expected to pay for this out of pocket above and beyond what they’re paying for school, and also this takes earning away from undergraduates who are counting on earning money in the summertime. Because Field Camp doesn’t pay until you’re in charge.
Does this create economic barriers for students wishing to study geology, right? It turns out this is quite the case. Not only do students have to pay for these experiences, but they’re also expected to have all kinds of clothing and gear that is needed for the work, or is expected that for students have, because as we all know that Proper Geologists Must Have Good Hiking Boots and such. Hmm. I’m thinking this might be a problem.
I wonder how many low-income students complete degrees in geology? I wonder if folks without much of an outdoorsy background, who mostly spent time in urban environments as kids, feel welcome? Do you think this might be associated with ethnicity at all?
It turns out that this is a real and well documented problem in the field.
Field Camps are accessible for disabled students, right? Oh, that’s not the case? Oh, my. You say that “you will need to be in excellent physical shape to get the most out of the experience, so train for endurance before the camp.” Whaaaat?
Let’s look at the subset of geology students who have managed to overcome all of these physical, economic, and cultural barreirs, and actually made it to Field Camp. Once they get there, it’s a good experience, right? Since the Earth sciences are so male and stereotypically have a macho thing going on, I imagine that the people in charge are doing all they can to tamp down dudebro culture and promote an inclusive and safe environment? That’s not true, you say? These Field Camps are well known to have hostile climates?
Are you saying that peer-reviewed research has shown clearly that sexual harassment and sexual assault commonly occur at Field Camps? And yet universities are still requiring students to attend these so they can graduate? Is that even legal? How can we in good conscience be sending students into environments that we know are likely to be harmful? You say that all field camps have policies against sexual harassment? Oh, I am now fully reassured.
You must realize that this is shaping who ends up in the field and all the people who never choose to enter or leave because of the hostile environments. This is going to take some hard work to fix these problems.
There are entire organizations that are focused on repairing these kinds of problems, which from what I hear, often manifest in their worst form in Field Camp. These orgs include AdvanceGEO and the International Association for Geoscience Diversity. I wonder if the folks who require and run field camps are being advised by these experts.
I wonder why so many undergraduate departments keep sending students off to these field camps. My guess is that they think hazing is a learning experience?
I think field training is important for a lot of us who do work that’s scaffolded on field-based methods. Which is why we need to make sure it’s done right. I think it would be supremely awesome if we could be able to provide field-based training for more people in my type of biology. But if our field camps looked like this, I sure as hell would not be asking or requiring this of any of my students.