KGS Scientist, Colleagues Receive $1.16 Million NSF Grant

"A researcher collects data in a cornfield during winter"

LAWRENCE — A collaboration of scientists from six organizations, including the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas, has received a $1.16 million grant from the National Science Foundation to implement and study the effects of a field safety, anti-harassment, and bystander intervention training certificate program.

FieldSafe training is designed to help researchers prepare for extreme conditions and hostile environments before they encounter them in the field.

“You could be in a really remote location for days to months, with limited outside communications and no access to healthcare or medical facilities,” said co-principal investigator Blair Schneider, KGS associate researcher and science outreach manager. “You could be dealing with extreme weather conditions, or in an area with very different cultural norms. All of these things can create or exacerbate hostile environments in fieldwork. Our training is designed to teach people how to prepare in advance if those situations occur — to identify the closest resource they have and to improve their communication skills to better support one another.”

The FieldSafe initiative seeks to safeguard against identity-based harassment and other exclusionary behaviors that may occur when scientists are working in the field. These behaviors can result in declining motivation and productivity, poor performance during fieldwork, and, ultimately, departure and loss of researchers from the geosciences.

“In scientific work, hostile behaviors such as bullying and harassment create a negative work environment that is more often experienced by people of color (e.g., BIPOC) and those with disabilities. This is an important reason why the geosciences remain one of the least diverse STEM fields,” said co-PI Meredith Hastings, professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences at Brown University. “The FieldSafe program aims to provide field research teams with tools to identify unsafe and harmful behaviors, respond appropriately to mitigate these behaviors, and proactively plan to reduce the likelihood and impact of these behaviors in the future.”

The FieldSafe team will create a MOOC — a Massive Open Online Course consisting of a series of self-paced, asynchronously delivered modules that cover topics such as risk assessment, allyship training, and bystander intervention. Debrief and reflection sessions led by facilitators certified through the FieldSafe initiative’s “train-a-trainer” model will allow participants to apply what they learned to different field contexts.

The researchers also will develop a toolkit consisting of sample field policies, codes of conduct, and incident reporting plans that can be adapted to guide field teams in structuring their community agreements and expectations.

FieldSafe addresses a key requirement of a new NSF policy that projects proposing to conduct research off site must include plans to address abuse, harassment and unwelcome conduct. Plans also must identify how the organization will nurture an inclusive off-site working environment.

"The new NSF requirement is critically important because it underscores the significance of ensuring a positive field culture in scientific fieldwork,” said lead PI Anne Gold of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

FieldSafe aims to help achieve that for all scientists, she said, particularly for early career scientists and those from diverse backgrounds.

The investigators anticipate recruiting 100 research participants per year for the first two years of the grant. Feedback from surveys, observations, evaluation rubrics, interviews and focus groups will be used to identify conditions and characteristics that predict positive implementation of the program.

“Since NSF put out this new policy, there will be a wide response of strategies from researchers and educators across the U.S.,” said Schneider. “However, no one to date has evaluated if these strategies actually make a difference, and that’s where we step in. FieldSafe specifically addresses the new NSF requirements using evidence-based best practices.”

Schneider hopes FieldSafe will provide an accessible resource that will help create a new norm for fieldwork.

“Moving forward,” she said, “there should be an expectation that these safety plans, team discussions, and trainings have to happen before fieldwork even begins.”

FieldSafe is a continuation of a field safety training collaboration between the NSF-funded ADVANCEGeo partnership and CIRES. In addition to Gold, Hastings, and Schneider, FieldSafe co-PIs include scientists and researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, California State University in Los Angeles, and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.