What is IPY
Research in the North... with a toddlerWritten by Guest Contributor
As leader of a national IPY project on treeline, I thought it was essential to travel to the Arctic at least once during International Polar Year, but it was not easy. Last year, my daughter was born on February 14, 2007. (I had hoped for an IPY baby born at the start of IPY on March 1st since she was due March 5, but she decided to come early on Valentine’s Day.) Because she is breastfed and does not take bottles at night, I could not travel without her last year. In fact, she still nurses at night and I cannot travel without her this year either.
Travel and field work in the North is difficult for everyone, and it is even more difficult with a toddler. Last year I decided not to travel to my students’ field site in Labrador because the site was helicopter access only and I felt it was better to be close to a medical centre (with good reason – see below). I was planning to go to Labrador this year without my baby since I travelled without my son when he was a similar age. But my daughter can’t handle a couple of hours without me at night, let alone a few days or a week. Since my larger project involves many sites, I looked for other field sites I could visit. My graduate student added a site in the Yukon but it involved either long day trips or overnight camping, neither of which I thought would be enjoyable with a toddler. So I decided to go to Churchill, Manitoba with my undergraduate students where we could all stay at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.
Overall we had a great time. My daughter enjoyed toddling throughout the Centre and saying ‘hi’ to everyone. We stayed inside during a couple of days of cold wet weather, but most other researchers did too. Finally the sun came out again and it warmed up enough for us to go out. I carry my daughter in a backpack carrier and she also likes sitting and playing with lichens. She learned some new words. She is probably the only 16-month old who can say ‘gaitors’ and ‘krummholz’.
Although there were added hazards of polar bears and lots of black flies (which actually weren’t out while we were there), it was a common everyday hazard that caused an accident while we were there. My daughter grabbed a cup for the first time – and it had hot coffee in it which spilled on her arm. It turned out it was a good idea to be near a medical centre. We went to the hospital in Churchill. She had second-degree burns on her arm but fortunately nowhere else. For the next few days she did not do much running around but she seemed to be ok. A few weeks later now and her arm is healing very well.
Overall I think it is possible to bring children of all ages to the field to do research, even in the North. However, it can be a good idea to make sure to be in close proximity to medical assistance since kids are more prone to accidents. While we were in Churchill, another researcher brought his 14-year old son who has been accompanying him for about 5 years. I hope that my 5-year old son (who loves bugs, frogs, snakes) and my daughter will enjoy accompanying their parents on their field research trips for years to come.
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Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2000 12:30 posted by Matt Nolan
I can say from personal experience that it is possible to conduct arctic field work with an infant even in quite remote locations. Our son is about to turn 3 in a few weeks, and has spent about 6 months of his life in a tent in the remote arctic on expedition with us. Our feeling is that he is safer in the field with us than in civilization, and even though we are further from medical help in the field, the possible causes of injury are much less. (most injuries and deaths to kids are caused by car accidents and murder, for example). Our biggest fear has always been burns in cooktent, and we take a lot of precautions about this, including bolting down the stove and always having an adult blocking the stove, and we have lots of burn injury supplies with us too. We always play man-up defense too -- there has to be one more adult than kids at all times -- and this seems to work well.
Same as you, I dont like having to make a choice between science and family. For some, field work is a way to escape the family or to have some focus time, but for us it is a way to get closer as a family as well -- we dont get to spend nearly so much time together while in civilization due to all of the competitions for our attention. On a larger scale, I also think about how the nature of arctic studies change because of this dynamic -- scientists face the choice of being away from their families for months on end, or studying something else closer to home or only a weekend at a time, leaving the deep field research to students and divorcees. That is, our field is fundamentally different than most brainy-type jobs, most of which are done in an office and require little time away from civilization.
Bringing kids into the field isnt for everyone. So I dont advocate everyone doing it, but I do feel that anyone that is good at field research can probably pull it off, its just another thing on the long list of things to have multiple backup plans for. The issue of distance from medical care is a real one, but again it isnt something that should stand in the way, just one more thing to prepare for. And this issue faces the adults too, and my feeling is that if we're too far away for my son's sake, then we're too far away for any of the adults' too.
Anyway, sorry to hear about your daughter's accident, but I hope this doesnt discourage you from further field work together. We're currently in the middle of a 5 month trip to a pretty remote region of the north american arctic and you can read our blog here: http://www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/author/mattnolan/ and previous trips here: http://www.uaf.edu/water/faculty/nolan/personal/McCall_Aug07/mccall_triplog_july07.htm and here: http://www.uaf.edu/water/faculty/nolan/personal/McCall_Aug06/mccall_aug06.htm Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss baby gear, etc 907 455 6288.
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