fieldwork · Parenthood

Parents for fieldwork and controversial emotions in Academia

I was ready for leaving here some posts that I had prepared on the practicals of doing fieldwork in remote areas or my impressions on the research I’m currently doing. But since I’m really using this as a journal of the various things that occupy my life, I rather write on the overwhelming, yet manageable, feeling of leaving family for a month-long fieldwork in remote Africa. So there I am, writing on my way to Addis Ababa to start an, otherwise, great coring campaign in the Bale Mntns of Ethiopia.

I share this here because, as part time field scientist (I do a lot in the lab)  and full time mother, I often find other colleagues in a similar situation and I feel is good to listen to others on coping strategies or just for the pure shake of therapeutical sharing.

We all know how demanding the academic environment can be, where at times there’s no room for expressing personal issues that can somehow affect your professional performance or simply make life a bit rougher. I’ve always been very lucky to have good mentors worrying on how was I doing as a whole human being, but still there are some areas difficult to share.

Part of that is just a self imposed boundary coming from the idea that we all have to be strong enough not to leave emotions to flourish. As if that was to making us worst scientists or to some extent weak. Then one realizes that there’s nothing wrong on proving to be human and therefore, weak.

Another side of the same coin is the inner debate on doing what you like when that implies leaving family behind at times. Anyone knowing me well understands that my genuine self appears whenever I’m in the field. I’m totally in flow, I enjoy being outside, walking on the field, watching nature, breathing that air. I truly enjoy the new adventures that each day may bring, I feel no fear and I’m really empowered by the experience. Likewise, anyone knowing me, and as any other parent, is aware of the joys (and sorrows) of having kids and what you feel when you spent very long away from home. So there it comes the confronting reality of wanting to be with family and doing fieldwork at the same time. Indeed doing both things is sometimes compatible and so we’ve done many times in @PaleoIPE

Then, when that compatibility is unfeasable, I leave with mixed feelings of looking forward for adventure and a heavy heart. Feeling that way makes me realize how is it like for the tons of South American and African citizens coming over the last decades to Spain, leaving all behind, not knowing when they would be back or when they’d be able to reunite the family. Let alone refugees that may not have a home in the foreseeable future ahead.

So, putting forward my practical self, I take this reality as it comes, not forcing myself not to experience those feelings and looking at their meaning. Thus I communicate to both groups (family and colleagues) on how I feel in either domain. I let my kids know how great my job is and how awesome will be when I take them one day to remote Africa to see Ethiopian wolves. So I do with colleagues, discussing the great joy that fieldwork gives me but also how much I often miss my family.

Are you going on fieldwork often or for long? Are you a dad or mum? How does it feel? Something that crosses my mind now is also how the reality of being a parent and field scientist is an extra bias in gender. Just a figure for next post: in this field expedition I’m going now we are 12 people coming from Europe, only 2 of us are women. But that’s a different matter for another random walk!

Thank you for reading and if I find the chance I’ll post more on our Ethiopian adventure here. Please don’t hesitate in leaving any comment!

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