Field biology is hard work. We can’t do it without the help of skilled, capable assistants.
Patricelli Lab Sage-grouse field assistants: note– I am no longer involved in hiring so this is how it was during our Wyoming work. For the newer projects in California, contact Dr. Patricelli directly.
We usually begin advertising in late October or early November for positions starting at the beginning of March. Look for our ads in the following locations:
Society for Conservation Biology
Additionally, we don’t advertise here but I do see some postings on the ecolog list. There are a lot of non-job emails here, so you may do well to get the daily digest of messages so your inbox is not flooded. Another places to check is USAJobs, which is a general job board but has some outdoor bio-type jobs, some of which are more in the realm of habitat restoration work than academic research. I’m not sure if this will continue to be maintained, but someone has compiled a list of job sites here.
As always, if you are after particular experience, it’s always fair game to take the initiative and send a professional-looking email to someone who might be able to point you to an opportunity. Finally, it is becoming more common to see job solicitations shared over social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I don’t know that these are replacing the traditional job boards but it can’t hurt to keep your eyes open there.
General Advice for finding and succeeding in temporary field positions:
You may need to apply to a lot of positions. We typically hear from at least 10 applicants for every one we hire. As a corollary, you may have to start with the less glamorous or well-paying jobs. Full-salaried positions, or those in far-off exotic places will be the most competitive, and you’ll have a better chance at landing one of these jobs if you already have some experience under your belt. You may need to consider jobs closer to home or that pay a bit less.
Apply early. Don’t wait for the posted deadline. The people who hire want to conclude the process as soon as possible, and may act on applications as they come in. This may be more true of university or non-profit jobs than federal agency jobs, but the point still stands.
Make your application look good. While field jobs are generally less formal than “the business world” (whatever that is), your cover letter and resume are a reflection of you. If they are poorly written or inconsistently formatted, it may raise doubts about how you would perform as a field assistant. Things like data quality and attention to detail are very important, and you do not want to raise any doubts based on your application materials.
Let your references know you are applying. This avoids two problems: 1) the “brain freeze” where a former boss forgets who you are, and also 2) the “overseas for four months and not responding to email” problem. You want your references to be prepared to give you a strong recommendation right away; no matter how qualified someone is based on their list of experiences, most people are reluctant to hire someone without receiving multiple positive recommendations.
Know what you are getting into (and ask if you need to). Field work can involve long hours doing physically and/or mentally demanding tasks, often in really miserable conditions and sometimes with very little in the way of monetary compensation. These jobs can be among the most fun times in your life, but only if you are prepared for the challenge.
What makes a good field assistant? Technical skills and collecting good data are clearly critical for success in a field job. However, the less tangible aspects of living and working with a crew can be equally important. Having a good attitude, being pleasant and respectful to your colleagues, flexible in your needs and ability to adjust to changes in plans, taking on (more than) your share of household chores…
This is a great post with someone else’s advice on the application process.
Finally there is some good general advice in a post about finding positions if you are still in high school here.
Is ANYBODY finding even the most basic of field grunt work anymore, once you leave the protective confines of your advisor’s tender ministrations/lab?
Without so much as a peep it seems that almost everybody is off to the unemployment line…even if nowadays it’s online.
It can always be challenging, especially when first starting out. My impression is that most employers and funders understand these jobs are a *very good value*. The hours, pay and benefits often make a Walmart position look like a posh gig. However, the experience is irreplaceable if one wants to eventually head on to graduate school or work full time in the ecological field, whether it be in the private sector, ngo, or state/federal agencies.
For what it’s worth, it is possible that we may end up hiring additional field techs this year beyond our initial estimate.