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HDR thesis projects may require you to complete field research and spend time collecting data away from university campus. This could include being outdoors or in a foreign country. Occasionally, researchers have not always had problem-free experiences with fieldwork. HDR candidates are entitled to feel safe while carrying out fieldwork and to access University’s support services, even if they are overseas or in a remote or rural location while conducting University research.


Sexual harassment and assault during fieldwork

Before you head to a field site, especially one that is remote or rural, ask your department whether the field site or research team has rules for conduct. Start this conversation early in your candidature. If you feel your department is not being open about what supports are available in the field, you can contact SUPRA for assistance and advice.

When in a remote or rural field site in Australia or overseas, keep records of any incidents of harassment. Sign and date them. If necessary, these can be used as evidence in the future. If you are overseas and experience an assault you may be able to access local support services. Your affiliate university or research centre should be able to provide you with advice on how to contact local support services, even pre-departure.

The nearest Australian embassy, consulate, or high commission can also assist Australian citizens who experience sexual assault overseas:

If you are an international student, consult with your home government on what assistance they can provide if you experience sexual harassment or assault in a field site outside of Australia.

If you experience any form of harassment or assault, there are support services available in each Australian state for people who experience sexual assault:

If you cannot or don’t feel ready to report an incident of sexual harassment or assault while still in the field, you have the right to report an incident or file a complaint to the University once you have access to phone or internet or have returned to your home. You can also contact SUPRA for further advice and assistance.


Trauma and fieldwork

When you begin the process of obtaining university’s approval to conduct fieldwork, you will learn about university policies on travel insurance for the purposes of university business, which includes field research, conferences, and work and health and safety (WHS) standards. You will be asked to complete paperwork to demonstrate you have assessed your field research for potential risks to safety, especially regarding physical injury to yourself and others and environmental damage.

If you are finding it difficult to understand the requirements in these reporting mechanisms, you should consult your supervisors or postgraduate coordinator for advice. Universities usually provide good information on protocols around fieldwork injury and environmental hazards.

Fieldwork-related injury, emergencies and misadventure often have a mental health impact that HDR candidates may not have anticipated. Being injured or exposed to stressful conditions is difficult when you are in your usual setting, and even more difficult when you are far from home, mentors, and loved ones. When problems happen in the field they can have a long-lasting psychological impact on well-being.

HDR candidates may feel they need to be ‘tough’ in order to be a good researcher. However, dealing with a stressful experience can have a significant impact on your health. All HDR candidates have the right to feel safe and respected. If you return to your usual university campus and you find yourself feeling unsure or worried about what happened while in the field, it is your right to access appropriate, professional assistance to help you process what you experienced.

You can find useful resources and support here in the SUPRA Survival Guide. These resources are private and confidential.

The SUPRA office is closed – but you can still get help!

To help protect the health of our community during COVID-19 SUPRA's Student Advice and Advocacy Service, Legal Service and council are working from home. We are working to full capacity and are providing timely and accurate information, advice and support.