What Is Fieldwork in Graduate School?

What does fieldwork entail exactly? Learn how to research in grad school and get tips for preparing for fieldwork in your subject area.
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  • Fieldwork allows grad students to gain new experiences while answering a research question.
  • Fieldwork typically involves collecting and analyzing data and reading peer-reviewed articles.
  • To prepare for fieldwork, make sure you clearly understand the research question.
  • All graduate students should be prepared to share their findings with others.

Graduate school is an exciting time for you to learn and grow in your field of expertise. It can include field experiences like conducting research with faculty and working closely in the field with professionals, such as a practicum or internship experience.

This article will teach you how fieldwork can help you grow in your field and how to prepare for fieldwork.

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What Is Field Research? How Does It Work?

Fieldwork — also called field research — can help you strengthen your experience and passion in your area of expertise. So what does it mean to work in the field?

Oftentimes when you work in the field, you get to work alongside leaders in your industry conducting research, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting findings at conferences.

Fieldwork may look different across disciplines. For graduate students in education, for example, fieldwork may involve working in a classroom with a teacher or conducting research on a teaching technique. Other times fieldwork can take the form of collecting data or analyzing a set of data for scientific purposes.

Fieldwork can be embedded into a class you're taking or it could be a project you do outside class. Often at the end of your graduate degree, you have developed a master's thesis based on your research in the field.

For example, when I was pursuing my graduate degree in education, some examples of fieldwork I completed were collecting and analyzing data, observing in the field, and reporting on the research. I was also able to co-present the research at a local conference and co-author a publication for a research article.

The time it takes to conduct fieldwork depends on what the team is researching. It can range from a few days a week to a semester or year.

What Are the Benefits of Fieldwork?

Fieldwork is typically conducted by graduate students in their field of expertise. Fieldwork offers you many professional learning opportunities, such as the following:

  • How to develop a quality research question
  • How to explore the research question in a real/natural setting
  • Experience obtaining different types of data
  • Practice with reviewing, sorting, coding, and analyzing data
  • Practice with presenting and reporting data (this can take the form of presenting data at a conference or symposium or publishing your work in a journal)

Other skills you can develop during fieldwork include the following:

How to Prepare for Fieldwork: 4 Essential Tips

Fieldwork is a unique experience available to you as a graduate student. It offers you the ability to dive deep into a specific area of experiences. Here are four tips to help you prepare.

1. Make Sure You Understand the Research Question

Be sure you have a good understanding of the research question before you start researching. You should ideally understand each part of the research question. This way you'll get a clearer sense of what kind of data to collect.

2. Read and Review Articles

You should know what type of research has already been conducted in your field in relation to your research question.

Here are some tips for conducting a quality literature review:

  • Use your college library's database and ask your librarian for help finding relevant articles
  • When perusing articles, read any sources the authors cite
  • Conduct a search using the published articles reference list
  • When searching for articles, make sure you filter your search using the database by selecting articles in peer-reviewed journals
  • Set up a Google Scholar Alert for specific authors in your field
  • If an article is not available at your college library, you may be able to request an interlibrary loan

3. Organize Your Research

When reading the research you found, it's important to keep it all organized. You may want to collect digital copies of the articles and save them to a folder in your cloud drive so you can access it any time. In addition, you can track the articles you've read along with descriptions of the articles.

A great tool for this is Mendeley. With Mendeley, you can reference your library of articles across platforms. I used this tool during graduate school to curate all my resources and articles, bibliography information, citation information, and article descriptions.

Another way to organize your content is to take notes about the article that make it easier for you to reference and cite. These notes should include the following:

  • Citation in the reference style required by your department
  • Any articles you may want to read that are referenced in the article — you can pull the exact citation from the references section and highlight those articles to review at a later time
  • Information about the participants in the study
  • Research and data collection methods
  • Results and implications for the field
  • How this article relates to your research question

By having this table of content that relates to each article you read, you can easily reference the article. You can also see connections between articles and your own research interests.

4. Ask for Help

There's a good chance you'll be working with a team or faculty member who is in charge of the project while conducting research. So use this as a learning experience and work with the team to create and deliver a fantastic end project.

Don't be afraid to ask for help as needed. No one expects you to know what to do every step of the way, especially if this is your first time conducting research.

The Importance of Sharing Your Work With Others

When you've finished your fieldwork and research, don't just let it sit on your computer collecting virtual dust.

When I started my Ph.D., a fellow candidate said, "You always have a publication or a presentation in your back pocket."

The point? Use what you researched or did in the field and share it with others. You could share your findings through a conference presentation, a webinar or workshop, or a published article in a peer-reviewed journal.

You can gain new experiences and discover what drives your passion through fieldwork. With these tips, you can prepare for fieldwork and research in your field with confidence.

Feature Image: Daniel Balakov / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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