“Field work: A privilege, but extra vigilance needed”

COLANDS researcher Alida O'Connor reflects on gender + safety in the field
Alida O’Connor (left) carries out fieldwork in Zambia. Photo by COLANDS

Related stories

Curious to know what it’s like to bring a baby to remote areas while Mom conducts research? How can a female scientist succeed in a male-dominated society? How a woman stays safe during field work? In a series of five blog posts to mark International Women’s Day 2024 on 8 March, five women scientists-researchers working with the COLANDS initiative – Collaborating to Operationalise Landscape Approaches for Nature, Development and Sustainability – answer these and many other questions about working as researchers and academics. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Alida O’Connor is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. Her field work in Zambia and Ghana aims to understand land-use priorities, decision-making power, and collaborative natural resource management. Through this, Alida contributes to CIFOR-ICRAF’s COLANDS initiative.

She told Forests News:

“From as early as I can remember, I was happiest outdoors, observing the world around me. I grew up camping, canoeing, and exploring local trails with my family in Canada. My grandparents, a significant influence, worked and travelled in many countries and gave me an early introduction to world issues beyond the suburb where I was raised. Conservation was my passion from a young age and throughout my education, I learned that I loved research as a way to further explore conservation for biodiversity and livelihoods.

As part of COLANDS, I can learn from a team working in my field and from other early-career scientists navigating the same phase of their work. I’ve had two excellent supervisors during my graduate studies: Dr. Terre Satterfield in my Master’s and Dr. Terry Sunderland during my PhD.

My experience as a woman in science has been positive and supportive, and I have found fieldwork to be one of the aspects of this work I value most. It’s a great privilege, spending time with, and learning from, diverse people and places. As a woman working in landscapes and cultures that are not my own, an additional layer of vigilance is needed. I have had male colleagues tell me certain places or modes of transportation are safe; then, local women or female colleagues tell me otherwise.

It’s part of moving through the world as a woman, but navigating this in a safe and respectful way comes to the fore when I am in a new place. That said, being a woman can have advantages too. In some communities, women feel comfortable sharing things with me they may be reluctant to share with a man. 

My advice to any young women interested in a similar path to mine: follow your interests and take that first step – whether volunteering in your field of interest, reading a relevant book, or taking a course. If you don’t know where to begin, try reaching out to people doing work that interests you.”


COLANDS is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). PhD research that is part of COLANDS is hosted at the Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and the University of British Columbia. 

For more information about COLANDS work, please contact James Reed at J.Reed@cifor-icraf.org.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)
Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting forestsnews@cifor-icraf.org.