Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories

Robin G. Nelson, Julienne N. Rutherford, Katie Hinde, Kathryn B.H. Clancy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous studies use quantitative measures to evaluate retention, advancement, and success in academic settings. Such approaches, however, present challenges for evaluating the lived experiences of academics. Here, we present a qualitative thematic analysis of self-reports of positive and negative experiences that occurred while conducting academic field research. Twenty-six semistructured interviews highlighted two central themes: (1) variability in clarity of appropriate professional behavior and rules at fieldsites, and (2) access, or obstacles therein, to professional resources and opportunity. In some instances, respondent narratives recalled a lack of consequences for violations of rules governing appropriate conduct. These violations included harassment and assault, and ultimately disruptions to career trajectories. A heuristic construct of a traffic light describing Red, Yellow, and Green experiences illustrates the ramifications of this distribution of clarity and access within fieldsite contexts. These results extend the findings from our previously reported Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) about the climates and contexts created and experienced in field research settings. Moreover, this study addresses specific tactics, such as policies, procedures, and paradigms that fieldsite directors and principal investigators can implement to improve field experiences and better achieve equal opportunity in field research settings. [work environment, gender, field experiences, harassment].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)710-722
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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