Female field scientists commonly face sexual harassment, study finds

Field-based research is a core component of study for earth disciplines at the university level. It requires living away from home or campus, often in a remote or foreign area. A study released Wednesday has raised unsettling questions about the safety of such researchers, especially women.

Seventy-one percent of the female field scientists who responded to the online survey reported that they experienced harassment while conducting research in a field setting.

“Fieldwork is often what stirs the first interest in science in a young person, and research has shown that scientists who do more fieldwork write more papers and get more grants,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Kate Clancy, who led the study’s analysis. “We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.”

A majority of the 142 men and 516 women field scientists who responded to the online survey reported being sexually harassed. Twenty percent of those surveyed were sexually assaulted by senior researchers and professors.

More than 90 percent of the female victims reported they were trainees at the time they were targeted. Most of the researchers who did complain to superiors, the study reports, were unsatisfied with the outcome.