Field trips for brains

May 29, 1998

The attitude towards fieldwork in universities is short-sighted. All students benefit from time in the field. It encourages the application of theory in the real world, where nature and mankind rarely fit into theoretical convention.

It also allows students to develop a flexible approach, to be able to think on one's feet and respond to situations where carefully thought-out classroom sampling strategies need amending.

It gives students confidence and maturity in their project work. And last, it offers opportunities for students to expand their horizons beyond home and university.

I have been lucky enough to spend four weeks at the University Marine Biological Station at Millport as part of the aquatic resource management masters. I have also spent time in south India doing PhD research and have assisted on School of Oriental and African Studies field trips. Ask a student who has been on a well-run field trip whether they have benefited and the answer will be positive.

There is simply no substitute for applying knowledge from the lab and lecture-room in the field. Courses that shun practical fieldwork (THES, May 22) will reduce the quality of their degrees and standard of their students.

Alison M. Henley. SOAS postgraduate. Geography department. London University

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