Research may be defined as a formal work undertaken systematically to increase the stock of knowledge (including knowledge of humanity, culture and society) and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. Research involves the sequential steps of identification of a research problem, specifying the purpose of research, literature review, data collection, analyzing and interpreting the data, and finally reporting and evaluating the research to draw conclusions and suggest recommendations.
Modern research in general and biological research in particular is focusing on molecular work with emphasis being given to microbiology, biotechnology, bioinformatics and nanotechnology. These disciplines involve tedious lab work, sophisticated machinery, costly chemicals and obviously technical knowhow and everything is done within the confines of a room. Probably because of this sophistication or the prevalent sedentary lifestyle, young and budding researchers are getting attracted to these types of researches.
In sharp contrast the fieldwork involves research on a gross scale rather than a molecular scale in the native environment of the concerned biological species whether a plant or an animal species. While the lab study or a study confined in experimental farms or gardens involves artificial environment with a high degree of control over extraneous variables, the field study involves a real native environment with a low degree of control over extraneous variables, but here the results gain an ecological validity.
The approaches and methods used in field research vary across disciplines. For example, biologists who conduct field research may simply observe animals interacting with their environments and thus conduct behavioral studies (as in wild life), whereas social scientists conducting field research may interview or observe people in their natural environments to learn their languages, folklore, customs, traditions and social structures. (e.g. anthropologists)
Sometimes researchers conduct a dual survey where in they study both the biological organisms in question and the humans associated with them who may either be the rearing community of the concerned domestic animal or the local inhabitants of the area of study. This may involve a research on the study of rearing practices of a particular animal and the socioeconomic profile of the farmers vis-à-vis animal rearing (e.g. veterinarians)
Field research involves a range of well-defined, although variable, methods: informal interviews, direct observation, participation in the life of the group, collective discussions, analyses of personal documents produced within the group, self-analysis, results from activities undertaken off- or on-line, and life-histories. Field research further involves the manual assessment or measurement or quantification of various variables of biological organisms e.g. morphometric characterization of an animal or a plant species to evaluate the dimensions of various body parts and to assess the usefulness of the particular organism in its native tract.
Fieldwork is adventurous and often challenging with constraints of finance, language barrier, inaccessibility and it demands more manpower, time and patience. However it is laden with various benefits. While the lab work is conducted within the four walls of a lab, field work is conducted in the natural environment of the concerned organism under study. It gives immense exposure to the researcher when he collects data in the natural state and interacts with the owners or inhabitants of a particular area. It serves as a learning experience and gives immense joy and satisfaction to the researcher. The researcher gets an opportunity to visit new places; gets a firsthand knowledge of the native environment, interacts with various people who broaden his vision and horizon. The researcher can further cage his findings in the form of documentaries and photographs.
Though no doubt molecular research is very important under the prevailing circumstances, however the field research has got its own aura and importance and researchers must take a keen interest in it. Let us explore the nature in its raw form outside the four walls of our labs. Let research not be a victim of our sedentary lifestyle!
(Zubair Ahmad War is a PG Student in SKUAST-K)