Field school learning provides real-world education

Photo By: Kelly Fretwell
Photo By: Kelly Fretwell

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be banking your future career path on your work experience and community involvement instead of your less-than-perfect GPA (sorry, Mom!). I suffer from a learning disability called ‘not giving a shit about boring classes’ which is often comorbid with the notorious ‘procrastination-induced shame response.’ This condition had left me broken, demoralized, and with no hope for my future until I was (magically) able to secure a work study position, which is an amazing opportunity for students looking to gain work experience, all while taking classes that are often not dependent on GPA. My job as a student research assistant gave me a whole new skill set to add to my resume, and opened my eyes to the kind of life I could have if I actually tried in school. Through working in a lab, I’ve met the most intelligent, passionate and inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Plus, by creating the website I am about to plug, I learned that school could actually be fun, engaging, challenging, and provide real-world skills. Sound too good to be true? Read on, young padawan.

The website is called B.C. Field Schools, and lists all the current field schools offered for students in Biology, Environmental Studies, and related degree programs. Why, you ask? Because these courses are nearly impossible to find online (believe me—it was my job). Many courses are posted on teacher’s personal web pages, or are emailed to select departments within the universities. This website is a resource for students from all over B.C. to see what courses are out there and to choose which one best suits their interests.

These courses offer much more than interesting subject matter. Students learn classroom material in a field setting. Mornings are often spent collecting data followed by afternoons filled with lectures, labs, workshops, and project collaboration, offering an education that will be useful beyond the bounds of Ring Road. Most of these courses are taught in remote wilderness locations or research centres such as the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and the Hakai Institute where leading experts perform the majority of their own research.

Cody Gold, Political Science and Environmental Studies graduate, attended two field schools at Haida Gwaii and one at the the Hakai Institute. “I can highly recommend these experiences as worth the extra cash. You get extensive opportunities to network with professionals . . . You get to learn in an exciting environment that can really take an edge off of the doldrums of classroom learning, and who knows? You might find a little romance.” Gold’s field school semesters provided him with the skills, contacts, and knowledge required to land a field assistant position in deer ecology research upon graduation.

If you are in Biology, Environmental Studies, or a related degree, and looking for something to help you stand out, consider checking out the new Biology and Environmental Field Schools website, created by the Starzomski Lab in the School of Environmental Studies in collaboration with Andy Mackinnon from the B.C. Government. This site lists field courses that are offered at UVic, UBC, UBCO, SFU, UNBC, and off-campus locations at BMSC and the Hakai institute.

Many field schools are offered by professors on a term-by-term basis. Each course has different requirements for application so be sure to research your opportunities early on. In many cases a student at one university can easily take courses offered by another.  Contact your program advisor to begin the transfer credit application process if you are considering a course offered by another institution.

Sounds grand (and often costs about that much)! Unfortunately, these courses are often double the price or more of regular on-campus courses. If you wish to take a field course but are on student loans or are not so lucky to have access to the bank of Mom and Dad, speak to a teacher or academic advisor about funding and scholarship opportunities.

Alright—have I convinced you? These classes fill up fast and application deadlines are fast approaching. Go get ‘em, tiger.

To learn more, visit