Friday, April 6, 2012

The Other Side of the Field

Field Biologist, Research Technician, Field Technician, Research Assistant are all different titles that have been associated with my work so far. These titles can be pretty vague so I thought I could enlighten you all a little better J

Basically I am at the start of my career so of course I work crazy hours and get paid very little for it just to fill up my resume and gain experience. I remember on more than one occasion working from 5:30 am to 11:00 pm (I only get paid for 8 of these hours). For the most part, the hours of work sit on the back burner because of the rewards. I get to work outside and handle wild animals! There is no other feeling like holding a bird in your hands. It’s a magical moment that is usually pretty short lived since we want to leave as little impact as possible on the bird and its habitat.

Well, enough of me getting sentimental about birds, I wanted to write about another aspect of my work. It’s a side that isn’t shared too often, but most field biologists can relate to, well at least the women.

The Ups and Downs of Women in the Field

Women were originally a minority in the wildlife profession like most other careers. In the past few decades they have increased exceedingly! Even so, I have only had one job which there had been more than one other woman working alongside me. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy working in all male crews. It can be really fun, but after a couple months you start to miss that extra estrogen.

These would look great in a swamp!

Field jobs are as described, out in the field. This means field clothes, hiking boots, baseball caps, pony tails, and no jewelry. You don’t dress up for work. You wear what you don’t mind getting bird poop on. I love that I can wear a T-shirt and shorts to work, even if it gets pooped on (Just adds more character). I’m not sure if that is considered an up or down, but I have to say I have lost my sense of style and skills of walking in high heels. Last time I went shoe shopping with my mom she practically rolled off her seat laughing at my attempt to walk in high heels. In her words, “You walk like a cowboy!” Thanks mom.

One perk I have found over the years on being the only female in a crew is you tend to get more privacy at times. I’ve been lucky enough to have my own bedroom on multiple jobs and even my own space for toiletries. That might not seem like much to most people but when you live with up to ten or twelve people in a three bedroom house, it’s a luxury.

Sometimes as the woman in the crew you can get placed into the position of cook and maid in the field house and data recorder in the field. I’ve heard this from multiple technicians and have experienced it at times as well. I have felt that I have to “keep up” with the guys, but keeping up for me is pretty fun. I keep up with trapping, hiking, drinking, and making fools out of ourselves. And after all that, if I feel like cooking, baking, or cleaning. It is very much appreciated. (Chocolate chip cookies always win!) I’ve been lucky that the majority of biologists I have worked with all take their fair share of cleaning and cooking.

One big downer on this job at least for me is the bathroom. As a field biologist the world is your toilet, so grab that shovel and TP! This is one thing I am jealous about men. They can pee standing up. They can pretty much get away peeing wherever they want. Women, well, we have to squat. That’s if you can even find a place to squat. In the desert I had to take shelter from the truck. In Louisiana, where I am currently, I hold it because we work in cane fields near highways where everyone would see. Even when you have a good spot, it might surprise you, which leads me to this embarrassing story of a time I had to go in Montana.

Montana Rockies

I was trapping migrating raptors this past fall on a mountain ridge in Montana. We have two trapping blinds so our crew splits up to run both for the day. It was early afternoon and I couldn’t wait any longer so I walked down to the woods to relieve my bladder. I had to walk a good distance because I wanted to avoid our processing tent where we band the raptors that we catch. If someone caught a bird while I was squatting, they would surely get a full moon. So I eventually find my spot and take care of my business. It wasn’t until afterward that I felt a prickly itchy feeling on my bum. I then realized it was from a prickly plant that had grazed my hand. I shrugged it off and joined the crew in the blind.

After awhile though, that itchy feeling wasn’t going away. I noticed my fingers had started swelling too. I tried to ignore it longer hoping I could make it through the day. I really didn’t want to tell my boss or the crew seeing as they were all guys. It would be super embarrassing! Eventually I put my pride aside and showed my fingers to my boss. It went like this:

Me: “I think I got into something in the woods. It was a prickly plant.”

Boss: “Ouch! I bet it was some of those nettles. You okay?”

Me: “Yeah.” Apparently my hinting had failed so I went back to scanning outside for raptors, trying to hide my worry and embarrassment. My butt was on fire by now so I tried again, this time more to the point.

Me: “I think I sat in the nettles too.”

Luckily that clicked in my boss’s head. We all had a good chuckle in the blind and my boss took me down the mountain early so I could take care of things. The guys in the other blind didn’t know what was going on as my boss radioed them that he was leaving early with me because I wasn’t “feeling well”. At the end of the day after a shower I was much better. I was greeted with concerned faces from some of the guys while the others tried to hide their laughter. I’m still not sure today if everyone figured it out.

Recently I found out women can stand up and pee now too! No more crouching or questionable plant encounters when you buy the Go Girl! Basically it is a fancy funnel for women who like camping and rock concerts. Yes rock concerts. You can check them out here:  I love their slogan - Don't Take Life Sitting Down!

I have to tell you I will probably never buy a go girl. What do you do after you’re done? Stick it in a Ziploc bag and put it back in your pack? Wash it out in the woods? I’ve done some gross things, but carrying that in my backpack all day would gross me out!

So now you have a closer look at the other side of working in the field, maybe too close for you?

Until next time!