Toolik can provide support for new NSF safe and inclusive environment proposal requirement

July 21, 2023

Haley Dunleavy

double rainbow over Toolik Field Station
Photo by TFS
A double rainbow arcs over Toolik Field Station, a common joy experienced in the treeless Arctic tundra. Incorporating a plan for safe and inclusive fieldwork into your project can help prevent unwanted behavior and leave your team members' positive transformational experiences untarnished.

Need inspiration for drafting your Plan for Safe and Inclusive Fieldwork, a new requirement for some National Science Foundation proposals? We can help!

The plan, intended to prevent harassment and discrimination and foster safe environments during field campaigns, must be submitted with your proposal as a 2-page supplementary document.

As part of Toolik Field Station’s regular field operations, we offer resources to everyone at the station that you can incorporate into your plan. While harassment-free field environments are never a guarantee, here are some resources that you could use in developing your plan and prioritizing safety:

Start with pre-field training

Highlight Toolik’s code of conduct and reporting pathways

  • Toolik enforces a code of conduct that explicitly prohibits discrimination and harassment of all types. Everyone who comes to the station must take a self-paced training on our code of conduct before arriving on-site. 
  • Anyone, regardless of home institution, can report a conduct violation they experience, witness, or hear of to Toolik management or University of Alaska Fairbanks Office of Rights, Compliance & Accountability. Toolik management has the right to take action when someone is causing harm to our community, including but not limited to removing a person from the station.
  • As a project lead, host a pre-field meeting to supplement our training and emphasize the expectations of our code. Remind your team members that it applies even during non-work hours. Model that behavior yourself.
  • Create an additional code of conduct for your field and lab team. Refer to this sample outline for guidance.

Empower your team by co-creating a safety plan for each field campaign

Promote medical and mental safety

  • Between May and September, an EMT is located on-site at Toolik, staffing the Medical Clinic 24/7. They provide first aid for minor injuries & basic life support to stabilize moderate to severe injuries. Our emergency action plan details our response to medical and safety emergencies.
  • The remoteness of Toolik and mixing of work-life balance can cause residents to experience a decline in mental health. Toolik staff are trained in mental health first aid. We’re working on compiling more resources for supporting community members’ mental health while at the station.
  • Share information about telehealth or other mental health support available through your home institution. Advise team members to talk with their therapist, if they have one, about obtaining a provisional license to practice telehealth in Alaska at least a few months in advance.

Prepare your team with clear housing and personal hygiene expectations

  • Housing at Toolik varies from single occupancy rooms to dorm-style tents. Unless otherwise requested by both parties, shared rooms are assigned to people with the same gender. Students and postdocs will not be assigned to share a room with their project leads or principal investigators.
  • All towers and most flush toilets at Toolik are open to all genders.
  • Our new washeteria now features individual shower rooms to increase the privacy of residents when bathing.
  • We also offer sauna hours for men only, women only, and transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer residents only, plus all gender hours. Gender expansive residents may use whatever gender’s hours with which they most identify.
  • Toilet stops in the tundra can leave field members feeling exposed. Does everyone in your team know the expected protocols and available amenities for bodily functions? Pass along these guides: 1) field toilet, 2) menstruation, 3) more menstruation and 4) polar bodily functions guide to your crew members.

Offer accessible channels of communication

  • Ensure that everyone has open access to emergency communication devices. At Toolik, anyone can check out a satellite phone for free, depending on availability.
  • Toolik also has landline phones, available to contact UAF numbers, including the Department of Equity and Compliance, and most residents can make calls over the station’s wifi from their personal cell phone while at the station.

Marginalization and power imbalances become magnified in the field

The above list is not exhaustive. While these guidelines are intended to be helpful to you, they do not constitute a plan on their own. NSF does not provide specific requirements for what plans should include. You and your leadership team should reflect on your project’s specific needs, working conditions, and potential hazards when drafting your plan. 

Check out more on 1)  fieldwork safety, equity, accessibility, and reciprocity, compiled by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 2) resources specific for PIs and project leads, compiled by the Arctic LTER DEI Committee, and 3) UAF Inclusive Excellence Share, Learn, Grow digital library. Read more about the new requirement from NSF’s FAQ sheet. 

Do you have a support need related to building safe and inclusive field environments? Contact our communication and diversity, equity, and inclusion manager Haley Dunleavy at or 907-474-6407.