LIFE IN THE BAG
The following pointers are worth considering when deciding whether or not the field program is for you. The pointers come from experience with many other students like yourself. You will be much better able to cope with the environment of the program if you take these pointers seriously, and you will find that your academic performance will generally improve if you pay attention to some of the non-academic things. It's up to you - you can deal (or not deal) with the difficulties of the trip in your own way - but these suggestions have helped others and they can help you too.
There is a rigid time schedule that we have to stick to, or our instructional time will be lost. You can't be late - for meals, for pack-up time, for announcements, for lecture. If you are a consistent no-show, you will get your colleagues terminally irritated at you, and it won't improve your relationship with the instructors either. Organization is the key to survival (people who do poorly on the trip are almost always badly organized). We provide our field participants with the following guidelines:
1. Organize your bags.
Subdivide them by putting similar items in plastic bags inside the duffel bag: socks in one bag (paired up), shirts in another, shorts in another, etc. Keep these bags in the same relative positions in your large duffel: pants are always under shirts on the right-hand side, and so on. You should be able to find anything in the bag quickly, by touch, without a light. However, keep your flashlight with your toilet kit, so you will always know where it is. The minutes you lose in tearing your bag apart every day to find a missing sock (and thereby randomizing the order of everything in the bag) can add up to many hours, many delays, and much lost study time over two months.
2. Each evening, no matter how tired you are;
Lay out your clothing and gear for the following day. This takes a lot of discipline when you are tired, but really make the effort. If you have kitchen duty on a traveling day, pack up everything you can the night before. If we are going to be in camp for several days, don't let your tent degenerate into a slum. It will often be your only place for privacy; keep it inviting.
3. Become a list maker.
Keep a list of things to do and a list of things to buy - remember that you won't have easy access to stores, and if you forget to get extra film or pencil leads it may be days before you will be able to hunt for that item again. Lists keep your mind from getting bogged down with too many details. Be considerate - don't expect the staff to ferry you to the nearest Wal-Mart just because you were forgetful. They have chores to do also.
4. Organize your field equipment.
Make it so it's easy to get out and put away. Your hand lens, for instance, should be on a cord around your neck, maybe tucked into a shirt pocket, NOT zipped into a compartment of your day pack. You don't want to take the pack off every time you have to examine a rock - and you will fall into the bad habit of not examining them if the lens isn't easy to get to. Save your pack for limited-access items like water, lunch, rain gear, camera, etc. Keep your field notebook easily accessible, not buried in the pack, and remember to write in it A LOT.
We have been running this program since 1987, and we know what people are capable of. There's nothing in the program that is too intellectually demanding for participants who are selected to handle. However, you must be willing to try out new techniques. For those of you just out of high school, remember that university work is different than high school work - and that Honors courses are different than regular university courses - and that this course doesn't really resemble anything else! Techniques that served you well in high school will not necessarily be adequate here. Memorizing a large amount of information is less important than organizing and synthesizing, and we will expect you to do a lot of this on your own, without prompting.
You can't depend on "cramming" for exams, even if you've found this a successful technique in the past. This course is not organized that way. Don't ever ask a faculty member to cut short field work "so you can get back and study for the test." You're out here to do field work, and to learn from it. We're perfectly capable of making future tests unannounced, if that's what it takes to get you out of cramming mode.
You should use the index in your textbook freely, and expect to read much that is not in the specific assignment. You will need to read the supplementary papers as soon as possible and summarize the material, in an outline in your own words, on a study sheet! This brings a part of your brain into operation that is not involved in memorizing highlighted text; you will find that your retention of the material will increase dramatically. You should always try to relate what you have seen in the field to what you read - and go back to pick up material you saw earlier. We will not see things in "textbook" order.
If you can read in the van while we are driving, you should do so. If you can't, then watch an video assignment, or you might take a nap and stay up later to do your homework. Remember you will be getting a full semester's Honors credit for this program, so expect to do at least the amount of homework that you would regularly plan on while on campus - probably averaging a couple of hours a day, and not always at the times you might choose to work. Weekends are not clearly separated from the rest of the week for us, so you will need to work regularly, every day.
You will be evaluated on the tests (which will include field material), on special projects that you do, and on your field notebooks (which will be picked up and graded at random intervals, without warning.) Moral - you must stay up to date on everything, and not depend on learning things right before a test!
Don't spin your wheels doing unnecessary things. Concentrate on one task at a time without worrying about the others still pending. If you do a little of one thing, then jump to another thing, then flit to something else, you'll end up completing nothing.
Use time wisely. If you have half an hour free before dinner, don't blow it off, but spend it on the top item in your priority list. The best students squeeze many hours of extra time into their work each week, a few minutes at a time.
Spend your days off appropriately. You'll be working hard, so it is perfectly OK to play hard too. However, these days are for rest and relaxation - if you get so tired that you can't work effectively for a day or two afterward, then you're worse off than you were before. For example, do not choose to hike the whole city of San Francisco on your day off and on the following day expect concessions on the part of the staff because your blisters are so bad you can't walk.
Sleep is important in pacing yourself. You will always have a lot of studying to do, and there will always be deadlines to meet, but don't burn the candle at both ends, even if you're used to doing this at home. Give yourself time to rest. Remember that the stress levels are much higher here than in a normal school environment.
Keep in mind too that, on this trip, you will be a member of an interconnected "family" unit. You need to perform competently, and with reasonable good humor. This can't be done if you are stressed out and sleep-deprived.
Fitness and health
Remember that this can be a physically challenging summer. However, the faculty do not ask the students to do anything that the faculty canít do. We have several hikes in hot, dry climates (e.g. the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon) at high elevation. Some hikes challenge your ability to deal with heights (e.g. Angelís Landing in Zion), some challenge your persistence (e.g. Mt. St. Helens). As a general rule of thumb, if you can walk a 5K in an hour or less, you should be able to do any of the required hikes. Altitude acclimatization comes with experience on the program (we have several camps above 7000 feet of elevation, and several hikes at over 8000 feet). We do not backpack, but you will often be carrying your day pack with food and supplies for the day. Remember that you will also be responsible for carrying your gear bags from the truck to your campsite.
Consider the following advice to keep yourself in condition so you can thoroughly enjoy the trip!
1. Your body is especially subject to injury early in the morning. Don't jump right out of your sleeping bag and start loading cargo into the truck - you stand a good chance of getting a muscle pull which can bother you all summer. Do some bending and stretching when you first get up.
2. NEVER drink water out of a lake or stream, no matter how clean and unspoiled it looks. Various bacterial and protozoan diseases (like Giardia) are present in almost every body of water in the country now. Some of these are minor and just make you miserable with digestive upsets for a day or two. Others are severe, and could knock you right out of the program and into the hospital. Some students in the past have really zapped themselves by ignoring this advice. Tap water supplies in organized camping areas are OK, unless specified otherwise.
3. In dry desert areas, you must take care of your skin. The sensitive skin around your lips and nose is especially vulnerable to drying and cracking, after which it takes a long time to heal. Keep as clean as you can, and use lip balm and moisturizing lotion. Wear your hat.
4. Wearing open shoes (Chacos, flip-flops, etc.) can often result in cracked heels, which hurt a lot and can limit your ability to hike. Alternating sandals with closed shoes and clean socks can minimize this risk. Use heel balm or lotions, plus antibiotic ointment to heal heels.
5. You won't always have showers available, but you will feel better (and your seat-mates will appreciate it) if you clean up as much as possible each day. You can do quite a decent job with a washcloth, soap, and a cold-water tap (and/or wet wipes).
6. Since you will inevitably be dirtier than usual, be very careful of small cuts and scratches. Don't just ignore them. You're not being a wimp if you use first-aid soap and antibiotic on a little cut - you're just being smart.
7. You're depending on your feet to get you out in the field - take care of them! You must keep them dry; if you don't, blisters and fungal infections will start up. When hiking in warm-to-hot weather, always take an extra pair of socks along. Rotate them at rest stops, tying the unused ones on the back of your pack to dry out. Use the moleskin from your first-aid kit on sore spots before blisters start to develop. Air your feet out several times a day when possible; wear sandals in camp if the ground permits it (but beware of biting ants, etc.).
8. A major problem on this trip can be dehydration; there's a big difference between the humidity in Georgia and in Nevada. You must drink a minimum of two quarts of liquid a day, even if you don't feel thirsty - in very hot areas you will need much more, maybe a gallon. Dehydration can sneak up on you over a period of days in hot, dry climates, making you collapse suddenly for no apparent reason. Always take full water bottles (and/or a hydration pack) out on hikes and drink often. Water is heavy to carry but necessary.
9. We try to make reasonable allowances for peoples' dietary preferences, but we can't cook everything to order with more than 30 people along. Our cook will try to provide healthy food in an appealing manner - but it still may not be exactly the same diet you are used to. Try to be tolerant. We normally have several people along who are vegetarians, so the cook will fix meals with both meat and non-meat choices. Make sure you have specified any serious food allergies on your health form, and be sure to talk with the cooks about products that may hide the items you are allergic to.
If you are attentive to the necessary changes in your life during the trip, this can be one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences you will ever have, and you will acquire skills that go far beyond your coursework.
In an extended close-contact environment like this, the Golden Rule is a good one to keep in mind. Assist others if they're obviously having problems; you're not competing with others for grades, since there is no fixed grade distribution in the course. Think twice before complaining. Try to do more than your share. Don't assume that things are going to be like they were back home. If you have a personality problem with someone, try to sit down and work it out cooperatively. Finally, don't EVER be hesitant about asking a staff member for help or advice - that's what we're here for, and we really want this summer to be a good one for you!
Prepare to have the experience of a lifetime! Our alumni often come back enthusiastically to reminisce about their year on IFP, and to tell us about how it impacted their lives. We know weíll hear great things from you, too, in the years to come.