Field Research in Ecology and Evolution Diversified (FREED) is an organization dedicated to increasing access to field work, research experience and naturalist skills for Indigenous, Black and/or Racialized undergraduate students. We host weekend and weeklong naturalist ‘crash courses’ in green spaces throughout the summer. We work in partnership with multiple universities and local conservation groups to host a series of curated workshops during the event. Through sponsorships and fundraising, FREED covers most of the costs of its participants and workshop leaders in order to increase access to this program and facilitate authentic relationship and community building.
Our goal is to provide Indigenous, Black, and/or Racialized undergraduate students invaluable field research experience in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) that may otherwise be inaccessible due to :
1) the historical and ongoing marginalization of Indigenous, Black and/or Racialized individuals in STEM, and
2) the financial constraints associated with field work specifically and obtaining research experience more broadly.
As students in EEB, we see a clear underrepresentation in our field that only intensifies higher up the academic ladder. Field work experience is one barrier to the advancement in EEB.
An essential part of understanding and connecting to nature – and one of the main reasons we love studying it – is having the opportunity to see a textbook come to life. Whether it is catching turtles in canoes or nicknaming our favourite birds, field work is both incredibly fun and deepens our understanding of and entanglement with the natural world. This fuels development of new research questions.
However, field work experience is not a privilege afforded to all students in EEB. Economic and social barriers disproportionately affect Indigenous, Black and/or Racialized individuals and preclude their participation. Limited access to field work experience is one early obstacle that can prevent Indigenous, Black and/or Racialized students from getting involved in ecological and evolutionary research and pursuing careers in this field.
Providing access to a range of field experiences can help create a more diverse next generation of student researchers by fostering scientific interest and providing access to those who otherwise may have limited opportunities in the field of EEB.