Planning a Research Trip

I always wondered how is it that scientists travel to parts of the world often very few other people get to go to. One of my former professors, a plant ecologist and mycologist, traveled to Ascension Island. That is in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean, one of the most remote locations in the world. Planes rarely go there, so researching there must have taken considerable planning. He also has organized expeditions to the Bering Sea, sub-Antarctic islands, Patagonia, Tasmania, Thailand, Panama, Peru, Tanzania…geez, he should have his own blog. He is very animate when explaining his adventures and natural history.

Not just the travel, but how do researchers conduct their work in foreign countries that have little modern amenities and speak a foreign language? Airports don’t let the average person bring bottled water let alone fancy lab equipment or specimens. Although, a book titled Appointment at the Ends of the World by wildlife veterinarian William B. Karesh proved to be a most excellent source of perspective.

Perhaps I should be asking how researchers go about knowing exactly what they need for a given trip, because when they apply for research grants, they don’t just ask for “X” amount of money for this “Y” project. Granters require more detail than that.

Let’s assume I am a researcher with a wonderful $100,000 grant for a field study on the other side of the world. I go with two colleagues.

Airfare might be $2,000 round trip per person. Not so hard to find tickets and log the price. After I get to my destination, how do I get around? With all my equipment, I will need to rent a vehicle, even two, considering how often vehicles break down in the wilderness. When they do break down, I will have to cover repair costs. Maybe $150 each day for transport within a country? For a summer-long trip I get to offer the local economy $27,000. Travel by itself takes one-third of my budget.

So that is enough for a numbers perspective. We know camping saves some money, but I would still have to budget for food and lodging on days my team needs to be in a town or, forbid, needs a proper shower. I also need camping gear and other equipment to keep my team and our project functioning while in a remote area. We cannot plug our microscopes into the trees. We will need generators. New lab equipment for local sampling can cost several hundred dollars. Lastly, research permits, whether for working within a certain country or on a certain property, are necessary, especially if I need to process samples back at my four-walled lab in the United States. Permits can be thousands of dollars.

In all technicality, as business owners know, I cannot pay for work done if I do not pay for the workers. That includes my associates, any needed translators and me. That will be another chunk of my finances.

I just generalized the expenditure involved with international field work. Specific pricing and purchasing involves heavy planning and knowing what you are doing. I would not plan such a trip without joining several other expeditions, coordinated by someone else, first.

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