Some reactions I often get when explaining what I do for a living are: “You’re so lucky!”, “Do you need someone to come along?”, “How did you pull that one?” or anything along those lines. While this is undoubtedly true – I AM very lucky to be doing this, I do occasionally need assistance in the field, working my ass off – there is more to research than diving in gorgeous locations and looking at amazing critters. A lot of my work happens behind a desk, I’m not just talking about the analysing data, before you can even start collecting any data all, there’s preparation. And preparing for an extended fieldwork season in Indonesia and Philippines takes patience, lots of paperwork and a certain brand of single-minded pigheadedness.
So what did it take to get me here? The key thing anyone who wants to do research in Indonesia needs is a research permit. They are notoriously hard to get, so much that there are stories out there of universities actively discouraging research in Indonesia, since it’s too much hassle. I started looking into the details almost a year ago (before I even knew for sure if I had funding for my project). Besides a lot of standard paperwork, the crucial point of any application is an Indonesian counterpart. This would preferably be someone in a respected university or government organisation. I work with the kind people at Hasanuddin University in Makassar. Besides the counterpart you also need: research proposals, references, copies of passports, cv’s, pictures, proof of funding, medical clearance, equipment lists,… If you manage to assemble all of it, you can apply and hope for the best. For me, it took about 7 months between starting the procedure and getting notice that my application had been accepted.
This, however, is not the end of the road. It get you two things: a visa for a year, and the privilege of getting to know many of the Indonesian administrative buildings and staff up close and personal. At the moment I am spending my days in Jakarta and Makassar running (well, strolling really, or taking taxis, it’s hot here) to various government agencies to get: research permits, letters of the police to allow me to travel, notices from the department of forestry that allow me to conduct research in national parks, documents from immigration that allow me to do my work, etc. I am hopeful to get all I need to start research by the end of next week.
But that only gets you permission from the Indonesian government to do research here. When working at a university, you also need their permission to do all the things you want to do. My research requires me to travel, dive, observe animals, interview people and do internet surveys. This means university requires me to do even more paperwork than the Indonesian government. Some of the documents I have prepared over the last months include:
- Risk assessments
- Travel applications
- Animal ethics applications
- Human ethics applications
- Dive medicals
- Travel diaries
- Fieldwork plans
- Travel checklists
This list is by no means exhaustive. I estimate that up until now, I have spent about 75% of my time on paperwork or other various administrative processes. But you know what the funny thing is?
I still think it’s amazing and love every bit of it!