Workshop: The Decline in Field Studies: Proactive Strategies for Essential Training for the Next Generation of Biological Researchers

Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D.
Director, Natural History Institute, and Professor, Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona

At the very time our society struggles to adapt to changing climate, respond to loss of biodiversity, and respond effectively to other environmental challenges, the next generations of scientists are increasingly excluded from the primary laboratory for understanding these issues. Field education—studying real plants, animals, and landscapes– provides foundational learning for biologists. But educational opportunities for field study have decreased dramatically in the past couple decades. This workshop will address this growing crisis by convening a select group of professionals to clarify reasons for the drastic declines in field study opportunities, and to formulate specific strategies to remove these obstacles. This can potentially have far-reaching and critical impacts on biological sciences training throughout the U.S.—a rebirth of field study opportunities. Two specific tangible outcomes will emerge from the workshop:

1) A clearly written white paper which can be widely distributed to academic institutions and museums, posted on websites, etc., and,

2) a summary article to be published in a widely-read professional scientific journal. Through these communications, ideas on how to promote field study will be made readily available to decision-makers at a wide variety of institutions throughout the United States.

The loss of field studies is a global, broad-based problem, one that is especially critical to biological sciences training. This workshop will develop a strategy of “best practices” for instructors, administrators, and the community of biodiversity scientists, with the goal of guiding the successful reintegration of field organismal-based courses in curricula. The workshop will address this educational crisis in two phases. In the first phase, a select group of participants– including faculty and senior administrators from a variety of institutions, and with a range of experiences, including risk management– will be convened to delineate the specific obstacles that have discouraged institutions from supporting field studies, and then outlining specific strategies to overcome these obstacles, while clarifying best practices. A clearly written white paper will be produced, for wide dissemination. In the second phase of the workshop,  subset of the original group will re-gather to write an article for a high profile journal (e.g., Science).