Preparing for Fieldwork

Emiel writes about the preparations for his trip. This post was originall published on the Edinburgh Conservation Science website.

I last wrote having just returned from Cambodia, and I write now as I’m preparing to return there. A lot has happened in the meantime.


Before I go, there is one formal hurdle I need to clear – the confirmation process. This is a sort of checkpoint I need to complete approximately 9 months into my PhD, in order to be ‘confirmed’ by the university. The process has three steps: Last week I gave a short presentation to my peers and academics in our department at an internal conference. It was the first real chance to explain to colleagues what I’ve been doing and what I want to do in the course of my PhD, and to hear about what others are doing. It was also a useful chance to get some feedback from everyone. I then expanded on this in my ‘confirmation report’ – a 26 page document (excluding appendices) giving more details about the background and reasoning for my research, setting out my research aims and describing how I’m going to answer these questions. I submitted the report to my advisor earlier this week and next will be my ‘confirmation panel’, where a small group of academics will question me about the report and provide feedback. Not only does the university use this to make sure us students are on the right track and capable of completing a PhD, but it should also be an invaluable opportunity to get some input from experts who aren’t directly involved with my project.

Writing a paper

Before focusing on the confirmation report I took some time to draft what will hopefully be the first paper of my PhD. What I’m studying – information flows – is quite a new concept in conservation, although other fields, such as public health, have been looking at it for a while. One of my objectives is to say why we need to think about this and try some of the methods from other disciplines in a conservation context. To start this off I’m writing a sort of ‘opinion piece’ describing what it’s all about and why it’s important, and suggesting some of the ways that the issue could be addressed and why it might be different in conservation than elsewhere. This is a really fun exercise (in a nerdy sort of way) because it’s let me read widely and take time to really think about the concepts involved and how they relate.


In the background to all of this I have been thinking ahead to my first data-collection campaign. The past few months have been fascinating, and I feel like I’ve made progress, but fieldwork will produce the first tangible results. It will also be a significant investment. As such, I’m excited to get into the action, but I also feel a responsibility to make the right decisions. Through discussions with my supervisors and the team at WCS the plans have slowly been evolving and taking shape. At the same time there is a lot of practical/logistical stuff to think about – money, timing, transport. Most tricky of all is finding the right people, Cambodian students, to work with me as assistants.

I expect the next time I write will be from Phnom Penh

Back from Cambodia

An update after Emiel’s first PhD field trip to Cambodia. This post was originally published on the Edinburgh Conservation Science website.

I’ve just arrived back in the UK where, mercifully, the sun is shining. The past 5 weeks were spent in Cambodia. Already it feels like an alternate reality; the two sides to the coin that will be my life for the next 3 years. Each has its own daily rhythms, friendships, and all the innumerable details that make up and distinguish places separated by thousands of miles, and yet bridged by just a day’s travel. Building on 4 months working there last year, Cambodia is starting to feel familiar and as my language skills improve I feel increasingly at home. This is a blog about academia and work so perhaps I should just get all my feelings and impressions out now: I find Cambodia absolutely enchanting. Its people, language, music, food, landscape, everything and I cannot wait to return.

As attentive readers will remember, the purpose of my trip was to “scope”. To visit the field sites and connect with my partners at WCS in order to gain a better understanding of the situation and be able to plan my research. I am happy to report that it was a very successful trip. WCS are very supportive and engaged partners and I look forward to joining their team. They were very open to my ideas for designing interventions in an experimental way, so this will be an exciting challenge for the next few years.

Cambodia is starting to feel familiar and as my language skills improve I feel increasingly at home

After some time spent in Phnom Penh meeting people and taking Khmer lessons, I moved on to the town of Preah Vihear. WCS bases their operations in the “northern plains” from here and I stayed in their ‘technical-advisor house’. From here I met more of the WCS teams working in the area and made a number of trips into the field. Some of these were directly to sites related to my prospective research, but on others I took the opportunity to join trips that weren’t directly related. These were often exciting camping trips to very remote areas and gave me the chance to see what was going on in the area and to spend some quality time with the WCS team. I felt very privileged to have such access to these spectacular forests, which are not visited by many foreigners, even if it wasn’t without risks! (see the photo below with the knowledge that nobody was hurt)

This isn’t a travel blog so I wont overload you with details on where I went and what I ate. If you are interested in seeing a bit more of Cambodia and the places I went I’ll be working on some short ‘video diaries’. I’ve already made 2 of these (let me know what you think!) so check them out and watch this space.

Now that I’m back in the UK I will be working hard to plan and prepare my next trip. I will be looking for some Cambodian students to join me as field assistants and developing the research instruments that I will take to collect data. This trip may be sooner than expected, in just a few months, so there isn’t much time! In addition I’m helping to organise a summit on Conservation Optimism which is going to be fantastic and a very important event for conservation – do join if you have an interest in conservation.

Standing in front of Koh Ker temple
Standing in front of Koh Ker temple. (Photo credit: Rours Vann)
The unfortunate aftermath - nobody was hurt.
The aftermath. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.