Due to Covid-19, contingencies related to fieldwork are now in place so please visit the PGR FAQs webpage for related information and note that regulations may be subject to change.
All students who intend to travel for research purposes, even locally, must follow the risk assessment process. In all cases, risk assessments will only be approved if the research is conducted in a manner that complies with all local restrictions and regulations.
For PhD students, travel will be deemed “essential” if it is required to conduct research towards the thesis, as described in the research proposal reviewed and approved by the First Year Board. Any questions following the risk assessment submission will be addressed to the student and their supervisor.
The final decision on risk assessment submissions lies with the School.
Prior to conducting fieldwork during the course of your PhD, please ensure you follow the practical considerations and requirements you need to undertake as advised below.
The list below is not exhaustive and if you have any additional tips that you think should be included, please send them to email@example.com in the Graduate School Office.
The Graduate School runs fieldwork workshops (with the IAD) once a year, it is recommended that you try and attend one prior to your departure. Details, when known, will be advertised on the workshop page on the Graduate School website, and emailed out to all research students.
Please ensure you have submitted all required documents below in plenty of time for processing and approval before you book or depart for your fieldwork.
- Emergency contacts
Your Supervisor(s) are your emergency contacts so ensure you have emergency contact details for them.
In the event of an emergency and you are unable to contact your supervisor(s) please contact:
During office hours
UK time 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday
+44 131 651 5070
+44 131 650 2257
Out of office hours
Edinburgh Global emergency number:
+44 131 650 2257
You should have been through the ethics approval process as part of your First Year Board. Any concerns regarding ethics should be discussed with your Supervisors in the first instance.
You should research all the ethical requirements and data protection rules before you go. Speak to your supervisor/other students who have undertaken fieldwork in your area.
- Risk Assessment Forms
You need to complete the online Travel and Risk Assessment form for fieldwork. Please complete this form for UK or overseas fieldwork.
The risk assessment must be approved by the PGR Director. You should complete and submit the form for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of travel or beginning your fieldwork.
Find out what visas/permits you require to conduct your research (live in the country) and apply for these in advance.
- Travel/Medical insurance
If you are conducting fieldwork overseas you must obtain travel/medical insurance for the duration.
Anyone who requires travel insurance should complete the online application form. All fields must be completed in order for the application to be confirmed, including a travel risk assessment if required.
The system will generate an email confirming that the application is being processed and will be confirmed within two working days. It is therefore essential that travel insurance is arranged well before the departure date.
The confirmation email will provide the emergency medical contact number, a link back to your application and links to various websites which will provide information on travel. No further documentation is sent out by the University.
We advise you to ensure you have applied for the University’s free-of-charge travel insurance. However, If you have your own insurance you need to check with the University's Insurance Office that it provides sufficient cover.
- Foreign travel advice
Up to date travel advice is available from the UK Government website.
Prior to travel, all students must read the Go Abroad Policy.
- Leave of absence request form
It is a University requirement that if you are away from Edinburgh for a month or more you must have a Leave of Absence recorded on your record.
The request form must be submitted to the Graduate School Office PG Research Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) by your supervisor prior to your departure. Please ensure that your supervisor has completed and submitted the request form.
- Further useful tips
This is in addition to the above and is a summary from a recent IAD fieldwork event. This is not an exhaustive list.
- ensure you have all the correct visas/permits in order to conduct your research
- be prepared for additional, unexpected bureaucracy - accept that your fieldwork may take longer than initially thought and build this into your planning
- draft a timetable before you leave and include within it empty blocks of time.
- always have some sort of fieldwork activity you can pick-up and put-down in case of cancellations etc
- build in time for holidays
- ensure you have all the relevant vaccinations etc.
- create a check list of everything you need to do before you leave
- organise insurance (see above)
Researching the field
- learn about the culture of your field-site - even if you don't need to for fieldwork, try to learn some of the local language
- ensure you know about any possible risks in your field. Is there likely to be protest / social unrest / fuel shortages etc. Look at the Foreign Travel Advice website for your country and check back regularly
- make sure you have a general sense of the routines/timetables of your key informants and plan accordingly. Take note of religious/public holidays
- if possible find a 'social' gatekeeper or contact who can help you orientate you on everyday issues in the field
- book/find accommodation in advance and know where it is in relation to your field-site
- check what the transport situation is like - will you need access to a car?
- look carefully at the acknowledgements and methods sections of past work in your field
- make contacts with organisations (NGOs etc.) in your field site. Even if they are not directly related to your research they may yield useful contacts
- make sure you know where the nearest hospital / medical centre is
- ensure you know where the nearest British Embassy or Consulate is in case of emergency
Communications and record keeping
- figure out how often and how you will contact your supervisors before you leave. You are required to maintain contact with them so please ensure you respond to any attempts to contact, even if you do not have anything new to report at the time
- tell as many people as possible about your proposed research. This can lead to some unexpected contacts
- keep a research diary / keep a note for reflections
- buy a local simcard for your phone (it will make communicating with research participants easier)
Other things to think about
- how best to make contact with people in your field before you go
- ensure that you take care of yourself - particularly if your research area is difficult / upsetting. Fieldwork is exhausting and can be draining
- friends are important - particularly academic ones. Fieldwork can be lonely at times
- think about doing test trials / interviews before you leave. Once you are in the field you may only get one chance so best to iron out any problems beforehand
- think about using a contact at a local university
- look into how to access libraries / archives etc. before you go and ensure you have all the necessary paperwork with you
- take as many photographs as possible
- you do not need to know everything in order to say something
- the points at which you are surprised or confused tend also to be the points at which you learn something new. Challenges and problems can also be interesting data and useful to write about. Gaps where not much is happening with your research can be used for reflection and writing
- there's always something you'll wish you could have done differently, both on a big scale and in interviews etc. Reflect on this but do not let it take over
- be flexible
- More information