The mountains are calling! But the trail to get there is pretty bumpy…can everyone come along? When we imagine a geologist striding through the mountains, carrying heavy samples and equipment, the picture omits a lot of people. Scientists with mobility, vision and hearing impairments or other disabilities have a much longer road to walk to get to the field sites geologists often seek. We talked to Anita Marshall, a researcher and advocate for accessible field courses about innovative practices for bridging the gap between remote field sites and curious scientists who may not be able to easily reach them in person.
Shane Hanlon: 00:00 Hi, Vicky.
Vicky Thompson: 00:01 Hi, Shane.
Shane Hanlon: 00:02 What’s one of your favorite outdoor experiences ever? Yeah, we just going to-
Vicky Thompson: 00:02 Ever?
Shane Hanlon: 00:08 I don’t know, just what comes to mind when I ask you this question?
Vicky Thompson: 00:11 A couple of things. But I guess one, when I was in college, we were doing an experiment. You’ll have to tell me what the experiment was about, obviously as usual, I’ll describe parts of it to you and then you can tell me what we were trying to achieve.
Shane Hanlon: 00:27 Okay.
00:27 All right.
Vicky Thompson: 00:27 But-
Shane Hanlon: 00:27 Shane’s science corner.
Vicky Thompson: 00:29 Yes, please. Okay.
00:30 So there was a rooftop greenhouse, but not a greenhouse, but on top of one of the buildings at my college. And we grew plants, and played around with bugs in it and stuff, so we had thousands of ladybugs, right?
Shane Hanlon: 00:30 Okay.
Vicky Thompson: 00:47 And I believe that we caught some, we released them and then we caught some. Or maybe we marked some and then released them, and then tried to see if we caught a certain number, how many of them would be the ones we marked.
Shane Hanlon: 01:02 Okay.
Vicky Thompson: 01:02 Perhaps. But I really liked it because I was the only one in my class that got… the ladybugs flocked to me. I’m a ladybug whisperer.
Shane Hanlon: 01:17 Oh. Look at you.
Vicky Thompson: 01:17 Yeah. And I actually like ladybugs, I have a ladybug tattoo. And one of my favorite aunts, I don’t want to make my other aunts feel bad, but one of my favorite aunts, her favorite thing was ladybugs. So I feel like we’re joint in that way.
01:30 But yeah, they flocked to me. I was covered in ladybugs, picking ladybugs off of me for hours.
Shane Hanlon: 01:37 Have you been able to parlay that ability into anything in your moving forward? Does anything else flock to you?
Vicky Thompson: 01:48 No, no. But maybe I can, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about how… I guess, ladybugs are good for lots of things. Maybe if I had the power to just stand and collect ladybugs in the middle of a field, just stand there, then I can bring them with me somewhere.
Shane Hanlon: 02:00 Yeah, maybe. The images coming to mind are those tunnels or those cubes, like money machine things where they would blow money around and…
Vicky Thompson: 02:14 Yeah. And I could just be grabbing ladybugs, but gently.
Shane Hanlon: 02:16 Yeah. Well, yeah, I love this for you. Maybe we’ll go out in the field and test this sometime, and see if you still possess this ability and this great power.
Vicky Thompson: 02:24 With great power, comes great responsibility.
Shane Hanlon: 02:28 Entirely.
02:34 Science is fascinating, but don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists for everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.
Vicky Thompson: 02:44 And I’m Vicky Thompson.
Shane Hanlon: 02:45 And this is Third Pod from the Sun.
02:51 All right. So we’re going to come back inside for a minute to figure out what we’re talking about this week. And to do that, we’re talking with producer Avery Shinneman. Hi, Avery.
Avery Shinneman: 03:01 Hi, Shane.
Shane Hanlon: 03:02 So when you’re in the field, what’s your favorite non-science part of the work that you’re doing?
Avery Shinneman: 03:09 Oh. One thing I’ve always really liked in field work is the problem-solving. There’s always something for duct tape and extra rope.
03:19 I remember going back to do more field work after a break when my kids were born, and the first task was to build these floating log mat sampling stations in a remote lake. And I remember finishing that work and being so energized by the science for sure, but also just the zip ties, and the duct tape, and the figuring things out to make it all happen. And I had really missed that problem-solving.
Vicky Thompson: 03:39 So the remote wilderness, new places didn’t get you going, it was the zip ties? Did you interview MacGyver for this episode?
Avery Shinneman: 03:48 Oh, both. Definitely both the science and this.
03:51 But when I set out to talk with Anita Marshall, our guest today, I didn’t really have problem-solving in mind as a key point in our conversation. But it came up a lot when we talked about creative problem-solving, and being open and willing to try new ways to approach the idea of the field more than any particular kind of work. And it made me think a lot about all that problem-solving and how much goes into our field sessions.
Shane Hanlon: 04:14 Great. Let’s get into it.
Anita Marshall: 04:19 Hi, my name is Anita Marshall. I am a lecturer at the University of Florida, and also the executive director of the International Association for Geoscience Diversity. And I research disability and accessibility in the geosciences.
Avery Shinneman: 04:38 I first met Anita as I was looking to problem solve issues of access to classroom field sites for students in my university courses. She’s been really active in presentations at conferences and other outreach to share resources on ways to make field work more accessible. We’re talking today about her own field work and the way it’s helped develop new tools and new perspectives about accessibility.
Shane Hanlon: 04:59 And I understand that you started the interview by talking about some of her favorite places to go.
Avery Shinneman: 05:05 This whole summer series is about the field, right? The time when geoscientists most like, generally with some icy exceptions, to go outside and do their thing. I was just going to start by asking, where are your favorite places? Where do you like most to go?
Anita Marshall: 05:21 Arizona. So when I was a PhD student, it’s where I got into volcanology, and now it’s where I take my students in the summer. I think you are hard-pressed to find a better place to teach geology fundamentals, and also to get people really excited about just how amazing the Earth is and the possibilities of field work.
05:48 And I just, yeah, Arizona. Northern Arizona, specifically, is absolutely my favorite. It doesn’t matter how many times I go out there, it just holds this unique draw that is just really awesome.
Avery Shinneman: 06:06 I think we all have that place that holds that unique draw. Can you think of what it is? Can you name it really? Because Arizona, to me, is one of my last places, I’m a cold person. And so you say that and I’m like, “Oh. I mean, I would go, but that doesn’t sound ideal to me.” What is it that pulls you there?
Anita Marshall: 06:24 Yeah. Well, you should come see the Arizona that I see every summer.
06:28 But part of it is the incredible variety of landscapes that you can see in a very short distance, it’s remarkable. Even just the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is less than three hours. You go up several thousand feet in elevation and go through six climate zones. It’s incredible.
06:51 And I love the San Francisco volcanic field, which is the area around Flagstaff, because there’s almost nobody out there. There’s very little infrastructure, there’s very little anything except spectacular geology. And there’s something really amazing about being able to get up on top of a cinder cone or up on top of a ridge, and see for miles and miles and miles. Just spectacular geology and almost nothing else. I mean, it’s just incredible. Especially, you go out late in the day, in golden hour, when everything gets that goldeny hue, it’s hard to beat, man.
Avery Shinneman: 07:39 That’s awesome. I love feeling that feeling through you, seeing it in your eyes. I know on a podcast we can’t see your eyes, but it’s there.
Shane Hanlon: 07:47 I am an East Coast guy through and through, but I do have a special place in my heart for Arizona, specifically the Tempe area. My first ever scientific conference that I went to was there, and it was very professionally gratifying, but honestly, personally as well. I made a lot of friends and everything. So yeah, special place in my heart.
Vicky Thompson: 08:17 Oh, that’s so nice.
08:18 I’ve only been to Arizona once for a meeting, for an AGU meeting actually, and it was in Phoenix. It was beautiful. But someone reminded me like, “Be careful, it’s so hot here that the liquid will evaporate off your eyes.” And it was true. It’s true.
Shane Hanlon: 08:40 Yeah. Oh, my goodness.
08:41 Well, I think Avery, I think Anita had some different thoughts of Arizona.
Avery Shinneman: 08:46 So Anita fell in love with Arizona and these volcanic landscapes on a field trip as an undergraduate. And then, followed that passion through to graduate school for a master’s degree in geodesy.
Anita Marshall: 08:56 So I really got into field work. We were doing field style geodetic work. So we’d go out, set up equipment, let it run for a couple of days, take it down, move it, set it up again someplace else. And so, we’d be out for weeks at a time.
09:14 Most of my field work was in the Eastern Caribbean. Which I like to tell people, “Yeah. In grad school, I got paid to hang out in the Caribbean all summer. It was a tough job, but somebody had to suffer for science.”
Avery Shinneman: 09:28 And just as she was getting into her last year as a master’s student, she was seriously injured.
Anita Marshall: 09:33 So I’m never sure how much to share, because I always want to get to talking about field work and cool stuff like that, but it’s an important part of the story.
09:44 So it happened the last year of my master’s program at University of Arkansas, and I was hit by a drunk driver as a pedestrian. So yeah, I was sandwiched between two vehicles. Yeah. I almost died a couple of times at the scene, and then also a couple of times at the hospital. I lived in the hospital for a couple of months, and then I was on Home Care for a couple of months where the nurses came to me. Where I was okay enough to leave the hospital, but not really okay enough to do much else.
10:24 I was in a wheelchair for about a year. And after six reconstructive surgeries, got to learn how to walk again. And I finally had my seventh reconstructive surgery two years ago. So yeah, it’s been a long, slow, challenging journey.
Avery Shinneman: 10:47 So after this accident, Anita really wanted to physically finish her field work, but there weren’t a lot of examples or guidelines for her about how to move forward.
Shane Hanlon: 11:05 Yeah. My guess that switching to a non-field-based project, was that an option?
Avery Shinneman: 11:12 That was the first suggestion from her advisor, but not the direction she wanted to go. She’d been thinking all along that her future life, her career path, was based around field work. So it wasn’t something she wanted to give up on.
Anita Marshall: 11:23 So I really thought that, that was the direction I wanted to go after my master’s. And then, the accident happened the very last year of my master’s degree, last semester, as I was finishing up. And I thought, “Well, there goes my field career because what good am I in the field? I can’t haul heavy gear, I can’t get up a mountain. Why would anybody want me in the field? This isn’t going to work at all.” And so I thought, “Well, I have to ditch that idea.”
11:54 And it took me seven years of physical therapy, rehab, and basically just getting my brain around the idea that maybe that wasn’t as big of a barrier as I thought, and maybe there would still be some pathway for me forward. So yeah, took me seven years to come around to that.
Avery Shinneman: 12:19 What was the reaction from the crew you were working with, your colleagues at the time, to your change in ability to access the field? Did they sign off on you the same way you signed off on yourself right there, saying, “I must not be useful anymore”?
Anita Marshall: 12:35 Kind of. But what was amazing, I could not have asked for a more supportive group than the group I was with when my accident happened. My colleagues and my professors, shout out to the University of Arkansas, they came through for me in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. My advisors let my parents stay at their house, because they weren’t from the area and they needed to stay. They wanted to stay near the hospital that I was in, so my professors let them stay at their house. My department ran a blood drive to replace the 11 pints of blood I took in the ER.
Avery Shinneman: 13:18 Wow.
Anita Marshall: 13:20 Yeah. Like…
Avery Shinneman: 13:21 That is some real concrete support right there.
Anita Marshall: 13:24 It was.
Avery Shinneman: 13:24 What were the practicalities when you got back out into the field to finish your master’s work, what did you have to change? How did you actualize that dream of, “No, I want to finish my field work”? How’d you make it happen?
Anita Marshall: 13:37 So I had to start doing my field work when I wasn’t fully upright yet. So I was using a walker and I couldn’t go very far on it. So I would go out there with some field assistants, sometimes it was some undergrads, and sometimes it was literally my family. And I would, basically, train them on what they needed to do, how they needed to get things set up.
14:12 And then, I would get as close as I could get. We’d drive up as close as we could get in a vehicle, and then I’d hobble out as far as I could get, and then I’d basically just shout directions at them. We’d get within, what we called yelling range, and I’d shout directions at them, and they’d help get the equipment set up and all that.
Avery Shinneman: 14:43 So I have to share with you, Shane, Anita had a name for this method.
Shane Hanlon: 14:47 For using teamwork to get things done out in the field?
Avery Shinneman: 14:50 Right. Specifically, she credited a wheelchair using colleague Sean Thatcher for coining the term, “the park and bark” for directing a team in their work from your most accessible vantage point. You pull up, get as close as you can, and then use the park and bark for your team.
Shane Hanlon: 15:07 Oh my gosh, the park and bark. I love this. So this was the main method she used to finish her master’s degree?
Avery Shinneman: 15:11 That’s it.
15:12 But several years later, Anita set out to start her PhD, and instead of finishing up a mostly complete project where she had this support team to help her with her park and bark, she went into something new and had to problem solve all over again.
15:25 So I started talking to her a bit about a new project and how you get going with a new set of physical realities when you don’t have a support team already in place.
Anita Marshall: 15:35 Really challenging. So we were doing geophysics, so gravity, magnetics, and ground penetrating radar. And there were, turns out, a variety of unforeseen challenges. I mean, I assumed the terrain was going to be a problem, right? I assumed that, we’re going to survey volcanoes. There were some fun unexpected ones like, my leg, my left leg is full of metal, and if you’re using an unshielded GPR unit, that’s a problem.
16:12 So there was some of the equipment I just couldn’t use. I could help with other things. I could help plan the campaign, I could help process data. But in terms of physically carrying the equipment, some of it I just couldn’t. Even if I was strong enough, which some of it was way too heavy for me, but some of it, even though I was strong enough, I was the interference.
16:38 In some cases later on, when I started really getting into my own research, I would write in “Assistance” into the little student research grants I was going out for. So I’d tell when I’d go out for GSA Research Grants or things like that, I’d say, “I need X amount of money for an extra person in the field because I can’t get here, here, and here, and somebody else is going to have to do that for me.” And I did that for several of my little research grants. And every one of them they were like, “Oh, yeah. That’s very reasonable.”
17:12 And so, I wrote in support for myself. I started figuring out what I needed, and started asking for it in my research grants, building in that support. I need a extra hotel room, I need a extra flight, and extra meals because I need somebody out here to help me.
Avery Shinneman: 17:31 That’s really incredible to know that, that many people saw that as a fundable need. That’s a little bit surprising to me, in a good way.
Anita Marshall: 17:40 Yeah, it was surprising to us too. We really weren’t sure when we started writing this into things, we’re like, “You’re just going to look at this and be like, “Really? Maybe you shouldn’t be in the field at all.”” Right? But no, there was a lot of support and a lot of, “Oh, yeah. That really sounds reasonable.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, okay. That’s great.”
Vicky Thompson: 18:08 So one solution I’m seeing here is to add more human power to get tasks done in the field.
Avery Shinneman: 18:13 That’s right.
18:14 At this point, she’s really built herself, again, a team and a team dynamic to get through the tasks that are needed at the end of the day. But it was just a huge lift she was taking on individually to write grants, to figure out for every project how to make it happen.
18:28 So Anita connected with IAGD while finishing the last part of her dissertation. IAGD was founded by a geoscientist named Chris Atchison. Anita recently took over as executive director. One of their big focuses is around students and resources for geoscientists in an academic setting. But it also serves a huge role in just connecting geoscientists with disabilities, and helping to figure out different ways to get out in the field, build up a repository of these support resources.
Anita Marshall: 18:56 So the IAGD is focused on improving access and inclusion for people with disabilities in the geosciences. I did not found the IAGD, Chris did. And I took over as leader, as executive director, a few years ago.
19:12 Originally, the IAGD was focused primarily on being a clearing house and a resource network for instructors who needed to accommodate students with disabilities in their geoscience courses. Because what Chris had realized is that, everybody was having to reinvent the wheel. Somebody would have a student with a disability in their class, they’d have to figure out on the fly how to work with that student. And then whatever they learned, whatever gems they came up with, usually slid in a folder somewhere and it wasn’t really shared out. And so the idea was that, there needed to be a place where people could pool those resources and you could build on them over time, collectively, as a instructional community.
20:06 And then when I started working with the IAGD, one of the things that I realized was desperately needed, was a place for community. That people with disabilities in the geosciences often felt like I did, like they were alone, like they were probably the only one going through this. That feeling of isolation, and that nobody gets you, and nobody understands you, and there’s really no community for you.
20:35 And the IAGD is a great place for that. It was something that I really leaned hard into building out that, “Yes, we do need to be this one-stop shop for resources, and insight, and expertise on working with students with disabilities.” But that still frames things in a very ableist light, right? That still is coming at it from an able-bodied lens of able-bodied people needing help dealing with people with disabilities.
21:11 And what I wanted to do was shift the focus a little bit more centered on disability. The community of disabled geoscientists, at all levels, students, professionals, and start building that community. And being, not just a teaching resource hub, but also a community so that people didn’t feel so isolated and alone. And the IAGD has really done that for me and a lot of other students. It’s given them a place where they feel accepted and where they can just be themselves.
Avery Shinneman: 21:57 One thing IAGD has done is run a number of conference field trips. They help build community and also see some really very cool geology, they’ve done a bunch of really neat trips. But along the way, they’ve faced a lot of problem-solving moments about how to create field trips and field courses that allow for participation by absolutely everyone who’s interested.
Vicky Thompson: 22:16 Right. So they take trips to more accessible geologic locations.
Avery Shinneman: 22:22 That’s part of it. Really thinking about the location and the sites. She had an example of that from an early IAGD field trip to Ireland.
Anita Marshall: 22:30 One of the big things that we’re always pushing is that the number one thing you can do when you’re designing accessible field courses is, think about site selection first. Pick locations that everybody can engage in regardless of their capacity to traverse a field site, right?
22:51 So in Ireland, this was something that was… We had one location in particular that was just the poster child for this idea. It was an old railroad cut that they had taken up the tracks and turned into a trail. So it went through these road cuts, just spectacular metamorphos rocks, in these beautiful exposures along the trail. But then there are also these really cool exposures out through the bog where you had to hike out, scramble up rocks, or hop over a creek to get to. And it was really fun watching the students work across this field site, right? “Okay. I’m going to map this part, you’re going to map this part. We’re going to pull this all together and collaboratively build this structural map.”
Avery Shinneman: 23:47 With students who just choosing the access that they needed.
Anita Marshall: 23:51 That’s right.
Avery Shinneman: 24:04 Not all locations have accessible options. If you had to pick the most absolutely fundamentally inaccessible location to do field work and geology, where would it be?
Shane Hanlon: 24:15 I mean, the Moon, Mars. I mean, that’s pretty inaccessible.
Avery Shinneman: 24:20 Exactly.
24:21 So Anita had this light-bulb moment in problem-solving with taking disabled students on field trips and getting all of the students an accessible experience in field camp. What if we treated every field site like, functionally, we were going to Mars?
24:35 From that idea, she’s built up this summer field camp program called GeoSPACE. It’s a multimodal field course that uses different modalities to meet different accessibility needs. So some students participate virtually from home, they’re acting as mission control, some have different access points in the field. But altogether, they’re operating with this idea that they can’t get everywhere they need to go, like they’re on Mars.
Anita Marshall: 25:00 One of the things that really opened this up for me, and why GeoSPACE has a planetary science flavor to it, is because I remember I was reading a paper about how NASA went about planning crude missions where they send people out. And it really dawned on me that most of the science that NASA does is built on the fundamental premise that where you’re going is incredibly inaccessible. They start from that perspective, that every field site they want to get to is inaccessible. And they have built their entire approach around that fundamental idea. And there was something that just clicked about that where I was like, “Oh, this is great. Everything is coming at this from a lens of inaccessibility, and it just meshes so well with what we’re doing.”
Avery Shinneman: 26:07 Yeah.
26:08 Talk to us a little bit about how that NASA-like approach is something you use in the field now. What are the technologies, or just the lens from that, that you’ve applied?
Anita Marshall: 26:19 Oh man, so many.
26:21 One of the things that we use is remote sensing, is something we use very heavily in our field work. Which is something pretty unusual in the geosciences, to lean on remote sensing in field work. So what we do is, our virtual students who don’t travel with us at all, who participate completely remotely, they analyze our field sites from space. And they give, what we call, mission control briefings to our in-person students before we go out in the field.
26:55 And they tell us what they can learn from space, and what they can’t, right? What the limits are of their remote view of this field site. Those limits then help us come up with our research questions for the day, right? What do we want to answer? And then from that, how are we going to answer those questions? What data do we need, and how are we going to get it? And assuming that not everybody is going to be able to walk right up to whatever outcrop or whatever place we need. So how are you going to get it? Is this going to be a collaborative thing where we work in teams that are connected through technology? Are we live-streaming to each other? Are we doing, what we call, a scout and report? Are we doing drone work? How are we going to get the information that we need to answer these questions that we’ve identified?
27:55 So not only does the remote sensing angle cut down on a lot of what I’ll call, the aimless wandering, that often happens, especially with undergrads in the field. A lot of undergrads, you get them out in the field and they’re just so overwhelmed. Everything is new, and they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, and they don’t know what they’re supposed to be working on. That approach of looking from remote sensing data first, helps them become oriented to the field site and clarifies what they’re supposed to be doing while they’re out there. So it dramatically reduces the cognitive load, and it makes us a lot more efficient in the field.
28:35 Because one of the other things that we, and NASA, have in common with our field work is that we are on a very limited time budget. So when we take students out in the field, they’re often students who have something that causes them significant fatigue issues. Whether they’re grappling with a physical disability, and how much it’s taking a toll on them out in the sun, out on the rocks, or they’ve got some sort of neurocognitive processing challenge where just taking in so much data, so much information all at once, is just frying their brain.
29:16 For a lot of reasons, we have a limited amount of time we can spend at any one spot. NASA does too. And sometimes we’ll jokingly use the framework, I’ll get everybody out of the vans and I’ll give them their instructions and be like, “Okay. You have three hours of oxygen, astronauts, before you got to get back in the vehicle.” And we just lean into the correlations between the two.
Vicky Thompson: 29:54 So a lot of this is just an unbelievable amount of planning around different roles in the field. So mission control, mapping, sampling at different places, sharing information, is it hard to coordinate at all?
Avery Shinneman: 30:07 It is. And they’ve employed a bunch of different tactics to have students collaborate across the different spaces.
30:14 I asked Anita about some of the more technically challenging operations they’ve devised to connect everyone at their different points of access.
Anita Marshall: 30:22 So all the credit for this goes to Trevor Collins from the Open University who has been messing around with this idea for years on these field projects with us. And this summer, I watched it finally come together in the way that we had envisioned.
30:42 So we went on to S P Crater, which is a cinder cone out in Arizona, and you can hike up to the top. Needless to say, that hike is not for most of the people that go on our field courses, but there’s some people that can do it and they want to do it. So we took a local area network device, hiked it up, I didn’t because I can’t do it. But colleagues hiked this antenna up to the top, gave the instructors a headset, and Trevor worked the camera. And then down at the base, under our shade canopy base station that we set up, we had an SUV pulled up with the hatch up. And we had a big monitor, big computer monitor, running on batteries set up in the back with our other antenna next to the car.
31:37 When we got all this running, the upshot was that we were live-streaming from the top of the volcano down to the base station in real-time. And our students at the base were able to talk to the instructors at the top, video with sound, we were able to live stream. And so they were able to ask questions, they were able to say, “Well, can you hold up this rock?” Or, “Can you bring something down that looks like this or maybe answers this question?”
32:09 And that’s probably the most elaborate setup that we’ve ever done. Because it sounds easy, “Oh, we just set up a monitor and some antennas.” But when I say this has been a few years in the works, this is hard to do. It’s really hard to do. And it was really exciting watching it work so smoothly and so perfectly this year. Really, really incredible. Yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 32:36 Wow. So that’s some really impressive technology. I mean, we’re probably getting a lot closer to where having field scientists live-streaming to each other, or to a lab from remote locations, is routine. But that’s still a huge effort that probably can’t be set up in every scenario, right?
Avery Shinneman: 32:59 Yeah, absolutely not. It was a huge lift.
33:02 So I asked Anita about her favorite simple solution. What she thought was the key thing that all field instructors, agencies, employers, should have available to provide access. And her answer surprised me.
Anita Marshall: 33:16 I would say, one of the most underused and easily accessed tools is collaboration. And that sounds ridiculous that I’d go with that, but teamwork fixes so many issues.
33:35 If you take a collaborative approach to field work, instead of having everybody be on their own, right, if you’ve got students out there and it’s like, “Each student is going to do their own field sketch and it’s on them.” It ends up almost becoming this competition-like environment where like, “I’ve got to come up with the best one, and it’s got to be better than so-and-so’s and all that.”
34:00 And honestly, that just sets up more barriers, it sets up more challenges, and it isolates people. And if we took this as more of a collaborative approach, not only does it fix a lot of potential accessibility issues, but it also is more like the real world in terms of when you get out into the workforce, they’re usually collaborative environments. You’re usually working in a team environment. So training students in this rugged isolationist type of field science, I don’t think is helpful, and it just creates more barriers. So to me, the easiest, working as a team is free.
Avery Shinneman: 34:51 Tell us a little bit more about those ideas. So I think the easy thing for people to think about is that physical accessibility piece. And they think, “Well, if I don’t have a paved road to somewhere….” You might jump to, “How do I physically move that person to the spot I want them to be?”
Anita Marshall: 35:06 Right.
Avery Shinneman: 35:07 And that’s not usually a viable solution, or often isn’t a viable solution.
Anita Marshall: 35:10 And sometimes it’s not the best solution.
Avery Shinneman: 35:13 Right.
Anita Marshall: 35:13 I think people have this incredibly narrow view of what field work is that is not especially tied to the science. And these are some of the deep thoughts that came about in some of the less than stellar experiences during my PhD. Is that, we have this very narrow idea of field work, it’s very much tied to physical prowess. We think it’s tied to science, but it’s not. Oftentimes, there’s this obsession with getting the boots on the ground in every location. And that’s fine, but there are a lot of times where, one, that’s not necessary. And sometimes, it’s not even the best way to do it. But we have this absolute obsession with getting people physically to all these outrageous places.
36:09 And being able to take this disability lens to field work really helps you clarify your approach, and makes you question everything about why you’re doing what you’re doing, right? “Oh, wow. That research site is half a mile farther than I can go. Well, okay, what do I need from there? And how do I get it?” Right? Starting to think big.
Avery Shinneman: 36:42 Right. And that sounds… I mean, you said this, that there’s a lot of parts of that, that I think, many people doing field work could lean into as a principle. Just for funding, for time, and for clarity, right? If I, ahead of time, were thinking about, “What if I could only touch the rocks in a few places, where else would I get my information? What would happen, if for whatever reason, I had to leave before I thought I wanted to?”
Anita Marshall: 37:11 Yep, prioritization.
Avery Shinneman: 37:13 Yeah.
Anita Marshall: 37:13 Yeah.
Avery Shinneman: 37:13 Yeah.
Anita Marshall: 37:15 I tell people a lot, people often, when they’re talking about disability in the field, they see disability inherently as a negative thing. A shortcoming, something that limits what you can do in the field. And I think that is a poor framing. Having seen many people in the field with disabilities, I would say, it’s not a shortcoming. It gives you a dramatically different lens in which to view the process, the outcomes, the rationale, behind what you’re doing in the field. It makes you question everything.
37:55 And I think it produces better science. I think, when we go out and we do field work, we are focused, we are organized because we have to be, right? We can’t waste our energy with aimless wandering and just the look and point kind of field experiences that a lot of undergrads do. We can’t waste energy on that. We have to have a reason, and a rationale, and a mission, every time we go out there. And I think, that helps our students become more conscientious, more intentional scientists. So our disability framing is not a negative.
38:42 Well, one of the things I think is important is that, of course there are times where it’s hard and there are times when… I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there are times when being disabled sucks. I’m not going to gloss over and say like, “Oh, if you just find your path, or find your mission…” Because that is garbage. There are amazing things and awful things about this whole journey.
39:15 But I think, the takeaway that I want people to think about is, you can let experiences like this break you or make you. And there were just points where I realized that I was not going to let that be the end of my story, that I was not going to let that moment put an end to all the ideas, and goals, and dreams that I had. I just had to reshape those goals and dreams into something that would work. But it didn’t mean that everything had to go in the trash can, right?
Shane Hanlon: 39:51 I really think that lens is something super interesting to think about. What if every piece of field work we did had to be edited before it went out to clarify its purpose?
Avery Shinneman: 40:10 Absolutely. I mean, some field sites or grants that we get, or travel arrangements, can lead to a need for that kind of prioritization. And it’s a way of working that Anita and others working on field sites with varying degrees of disability are really well-versed in figuring out. And she’s definitely an advocate for seeing that as a field skillset.
Vicky Thompson: 40:31 Yeah. We’ve covered a lot of different field sites in this series. Places that are very inaccessible, like ocean depths and planetary geology, and some really, really remote field sites on Earth. So I wonder if these methods apply to all kinds of locations?
Avery Shinneman: 40:47 Yeah. I think Anita would suggest that there’s a role for everyone in investigating geology anywhere.
40:53 But I did ask her a bit about that imagery of the rugged remote geologist that tends to appear when we talk about field work.
Anita Marshall: 41:01 So that image of geology done in far-flung places is one of the reasons that people with disabilities self-select out of the geosciences. Everything we do to convey who we are and what we do is often this glamorous adventurer type of mystique, where we’re like, “Adventuring and far-flung places, or hanging off a mountainside, or in the deepest cave, or in the most remote ice sheet.”
41:38 And that’s cool and cool science gets done there. But if that’s the only way that you are conveying what geoscientists do, not only is it disingenuous because let’s be honest, most of us work in front of a computer, but it also tells a lot of people that there’s not a place for them. That if that’s what it takes to be a geoscientist, then people with disabilities, people who grew up with no access to being able to go out in remote and rural areas, people that are worried about their safety for many reasons, social reasons, identity reasons. If all we do is show field work in remote far-flung places and we make that equal geology, there are a lot of people that are going to say, “Eh, that’s not for me.”
42:32 And so, I’m totally okay with talking about the cool science that’s done at the edges of the Earth, as long as it’s balanced with all the other amazing ways that you can engage with this science. And I think, too often we let field work take, not just center stage, but the only stage. And that’s not really an accurate picture, and it’s not an inclusive picture of our discipline.
Avery Shinneman: 43:08 So you had a really good answer to the question of what can everybody do to think about more inclusive field spaces? And that’s think about more collaboration. If you got to design a magazine cover, or a textbook cover, or that classic image that campuses used to recruit geologists that wasn’t maybe focused exclusively on recruiting students with disabilities, but was just what you think is the most balanced picture, what would it show? What is that vision?
Anita Marshall: 43:39 Hmm, boy. We were just having this discussion. We were redoing our posters in our hallway at our geology department, and we went round and round on this because everybody knows what I think about this.
43:55 And the first images they came up with were all the far-flung geology. And I was like, “Can we not?” And they’re like, “Well, what would you put?” And I’m like, “Well…” I said, “Do we have to only put one image? Can we do a three panel thing or something where we do field, lab, and computer work?” I said, “Represent the three main ways that people engage with data in the geosciences.”
44:26 And that’s actually what we landed on, was to do more than one image. To do something that represented lab, field, computers. Because that was also what’s being done in our department, and we didn’t want to exclude. We have a whole group, a whole cohort in our department, that the only geology work they do is on computers, they never go in the field. And so, they always just roll their eyes at that image anyway because they don’t do that. And so, they wanted to be represented too.
Avery Shinneman: 45:02 What about a way of depicting field work that is… so acknowledging, absolutely, that there are data scientists that contribute to the field in ways that are not field related. If you had to come up with a picture of what it looks like to do science in the field, to understand the Earth in its place that was inclusive to everyone, is there something from GeoSPACE or images that would draw to mind the ways everyone can be there?
Anita Marshall: 45:33 Yeah. I think, I’d like to see more representation. We talked about textbook images and I was like, “I would like to see more representation of urban geology.” I would like to see people engaging in outcrops that are right there in town, right? I would like to see…
45:55 People often go to great lengths to crop out any hint of civilization in their field photos. Like yeah, zoom out and let us see that you’re right there next to the road. Or I think, part of it is moving a little bit away from this romanticized image that we have, and more in a real image of where we’re actually doing a lot of this work. I think that’d be a good place to start.
Shane Hanlon: 46:39 I think this is such a great way to end, and such a great place to end on. Because I’ll be honest, for me, as a person who did and still does field work, I had a very, and have, if I’m being frank, a very specific idea in my head about what field work is. And even this series that we’re doing, for the most part, we’re talking to folks who are out in very remote locations, or out on a ship, or literally hunting hurricanes. But that’s not necessarily what field work is, and I really appreciate someone like Anita for just, honestly, setting my record straight.
Vicky Thompson: 47:19 No, I agree. And I think it makes it, hopefully, it’s inspiring to other people to be able to see what field work is really about in all different ways, right? So maybe someone will see it and say, “Wait, I bet I could do that. I could get over there, I could do this thing.” That’s really great.
Shane Hanlon: 47:36 Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that’s a fantastic place to end.
47:40 And so with that, that is all from Third Pod from the Sun.
Vicky Thompson: 47:44 Thanks so much to Avery, for bringing us this story. And to Anita, for sharing her work with us.
Shane Hanlon: 47:49 This episode was produced by Avery, with audio engineering from Collin Warren, and artwork by Jace Steiner.
Vicky Thompson: 47:56 We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast, so please rate and review us. And you can find new episodes on your favorite podcasting app or at thirdpodfromthesun.com.
Shane Hanlon: 48:04 Thanks all, and we’ll see you next week.
Vicky Thompson: 48:12 Did you say okley-dokes?
Shane Hanlon: 48:15 I did.
Vicky Thompson: 48:15 Okay. No comment, just pointing that out.
Shane Hanlon: 48:19 Glad we had this talk.
Vicky Thompson: 48:19 Okley-dokes.