Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fieldwork Anxiety

I'm leaving for Costa Rica to begin my 15 months of dissertation fieldwork in 1 week. And I'm freaking out. There is so much I still need to get done--supplies are still on order, still some field stuff I have to inventory and replace, grants I want to get done and give to my advisor so she can submit them when I'm in the field, and I need to get my apartment packed up and cleaned out and move my stuff. And I'm dealing with the stress of having to leave my boyfriend (and the pets) for all that time, which he's really not happy with. We will see each other in August, he come down to Costa Rica in January, but still, it's a long time to be apart, especially when I'll have very infrequent internet access, and have to share a phone with everyone at the field station.

It really is one of the ironic aspects of my dissertation--I'm studying the relationship between social relationships and stress, and that requires putting putting such strain on my social relationships that it causes tons of stress (and grad school and dissertation work provide enough stress on their own!). It really is such a hard thing about field primatology. Many of the people in my grad program do bioarch, osteology, and forensic arch., so often their fieldwork means going for shorter periods of time. And their research subjects stay put--they know what they are going to accomplish each day, instead of worrying about whether they will find their bones and how long it will be before they will abruptly speed away (the unfortunately thing about spider monkeys, when they decide to go, they GO--and depending on their travel path, its not always possible to follow them. They fly through the trees, but for the human trying to navigate the swamp, it can be impossible to keep up).

All that stress has cause me to up all night worrying, and then during the day its so hard to be productive to get everything done. I love my monkeys, I love the field, I look forward to those magical days in the rainforest watching monkeys and running into other animals (which, granted, are tempered by the miserable days when you can't find the monkeys, its raining nonstop, and you fall in the swamp) but sometimes the sad thing about doing research on what you love is that the joys of it can be eclipsed by all the work and stress and sacrifices that it requires.


  1. Good luck! I am in the same boat. I'm leaving in 1 month for a year. 15 straight months sounds daunting, but you can do it! I'm breaking my fieldwork up (planning to go back to SMNP in 2012 for a few months for follow-up on my guys) so I can get some lab work done in between.

  2. Hope everything works out Michelle. My partner told me that he doesn't know how he'll live his life if I'm away for more than a month (leave it to the dramatic person to say that, right?).