Tag Archives: field work

Family Fieldwork v1.0: North Carolina Edition

One of our long-term dreams as a science family is to take on “family fieldwork.” The idea is that Simon & I would conduct joint or collaboratory fieldwork in the same location, and bring along our kids and caregivers for them. We are so excited to have the opportunity to do just that during the month of February when we will return to Hawaii. In the meantime, Simon had a short work trip to Nags Head, North Carolina last weekend and we were able to put together a mini-version of family fieldwork to try it out.

We visited Nags Head to facilitate collection of large, fresh, whole pelagic fishes including tuna and wahoo. These fish subsequently traveled with Simon & a colleague to San Diego for high resolution scanning in an MRI machine. The resultant data are a key first step to Simon’s newest project at NRL developing a fish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle.

November is the tail end of the season for the fish of interest, so a three-day window was allotted where Simon could assess the daily catch from his vendor fisherman and pick the specimens he wanted, then carefully package them for shipping to San Diego. Time was critical as he wanted to ensure the fish were whole fresh specimens (fresh is better when it comes to MRI) and never frozen.

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The beach in front access across from our rental house – a highlight for Joey & Blake

The fish collection window fell over a holiday weekend, so I made plans to join Simon and bring the boys & their grandparents along for the ride. We rented a house in Nags Head across the street from the beach and brought along a stroller and sand toys. Overall, everything worked. The kids and I made it home safely, Simon is in San Diego proceeding with data collection from the fish scans, and the grandparents are still excited about our trip to Hawaii.

That said, we learned quite a few things to operate more smoothly next time!

Our children are still very young (3 years, 10 months) so having a safe space for both of them to play indoors is critical. When we travel to Hawaii I’ll bring/buy extra outlet covers, baby gates, pop-up toy storage, and doorknob covers.

This past weekend was REALLY hectic because of the aforementioned time crunch on getting the fish into the MRI as quickly as possible. We were only in Nags Head for three days. In addition, we had extra people coming and going from the house. This was definitely stressful for the boys. I was reminded (again) that we need to keep everything as simple as possible for them, and preserve their routine. I think things will be easier in Hawaii since we are there for a whole month, and they’ll have more time to get settled and used to the family fieldwork norm.

On the same note, buffer days are really critical for kids. I had a free day with them after arriving in Nags Head, and spent another day with them at the grandparents’ house in Williamsburg before returning to our home in Alexandria. That extra time really helped them re-group and stay happy.

The final challenge with family fieldwork is delineating my time between work and kids. At home, I never work when I’m with them – I reserve all work things for when I’m at my office, or when they are asleep. This is a harder line to draw with a shared house in a new place. We are still piecing plans together, but now will prioritize a clear schedule of work time as well as a separated office space in the house that the boys will not usually be allowed to access. I’m glad a have a few more months to brainstorm before we go so that V2.0 Hawaii Edition gets off to a smooth start!

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Time with Grammy is always special. We love that family fieldwork gives both our kids and our parents extra special memories together.
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Mama Science Vacation

Mama Science Vacation

It was inevitable, although I did it sooner than many moms (and later than many other moms). I left Joey with his Grammy and Papa for a week of luxury baby resort – swimming, beach, friends, relatives, a dog, a big house, and tons of toys and books – while I went off on a science adventure without him. It would be easy for me to spend the week feeling sad and guilty for abandoning my child and husband, but I knew from the outset that I couldn’t do that. Several people including Joey and Simon worked hard to ensure that I could make this happen, and the least I could do to repay them is get the most out of my trip!

Day 1:

I am en route to the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station on St. John, USVI. I am going to help fellow Scripps grad and science mom extraordinaire Jessica Carilli with her exciting fieldwork. Jess makes a living by studying the records left in corals skeletons, and in this particular case is looking for the signature of sediment runoff in the coral record. The first step to getting at that record is extracting cores – long, cylindrical, sections of coral – for her to take back to her lab and study. Divers take the cores from both living and dead corals with an underwater drill, which is powered by SCUBA tanks. That’s where I come in – dive buddy was needed! I’m so happy to be back in the water and for the opportunity to work with a Scripps friend. While we aren’t working on Jessica’s data collection, you can assume that I will either be off exploring the reef with my mask and snorkel or working hard on my own papers. I set an ambitious goal of submitting two additional manuscripts for review before I start work (hopefully September 1), so I have a lot to do!

This is a fun learning experience for me also. I have never taken coral cores before. Simon’s and my work in Hawaii has prepared me for the innovative requirements of fieldwork, as well as for handling large and unwieldy objects underwater. The tools and methods we are using on this trip are new to me though, and I have much to gain from this experience.

In the meantime, Joey is hanging out with two of his favorite people and making the rounds to his Williamsburg fan club. He is already being spoiled by his grandparents, and while he gets excited to see Simon and I on Facetime or Skype, does not seem to be distressed by our absence. I am grateful that he is still small enough to take this in stride and not really understand that we aren’t in the same geographic area as him right now. It will be a very happy family reunion for all three Freemans next weekend, regardless!

Day 2:

We spent today getting settled into the VIERS field station and exploring the nearby reefs to suss out field sites in Lameshur Bay.

The cabin is very nice – two big bedrooms with a toilet/sink each and a kitchen in between. There is power, but everything is open air- a strip of screens around the entire building (all of the buildings), clothesline outside, super nice outside shower with warm water (soooo pleasant last night! moonlight, stars, crickets and frogs… I was in love). There are ceiling fans and it is cool enough to sleep inside. Our kitchen has a stove-top only, coffeepot, and small microwave. Most of our meals will be prepared in our cabin. There is a large ‘camp’ with many cabins, a communal cafeteria, office, little museum from the tektite project, and other living amenities. They have short (2 day) camps for kids here. Then it is a short walk or drive to the ‘lab’ which has lab space, a little dive locker (closet with lockers and drying rack), pier, small boat, freshwater shower, etc.

We visited the lab today to set up and run through our basic procedures. We are planning to start diving/collecting cores tomorrow morning. Today we went for a long snorkel to explore Lameshur Bay near the field station. The land part of the park is beautiful, dense jungle singing with birds and insects (no frightening bites yet!). The underwater park has scattered coral reefs and seagrass beds, with a wide variety of fish. The water is unbelievably warm – far warmer than anything we experienced in Hawaii.

I of course left my camera in the dive locker so photos will have to be added later, but wanted to leave a little bit of an update ☺