As a scientist, whether you’re a student or a professional, you’ll need to gather data and perform experiments in different locations. Depending on the nature of the experiment, fieldwork may offer you the best results in a natural setting. Meanwhile, the controlled nature of laboratory experiments might serve your hypothesis best. Let’s look at some of the key differences between laboratory and field research.
Location, Location, Location
A laboratory experiment, as the name implies, takes place in a laboratory environment under controlled conditions. The scientist performing the experiment chooses the conditions—place, time, other participants—and follows the scientific method to the letter.
Fieldwork is more random and spontaneous. A field researcher’s goal is to obtain as much raw data as possible in the natural world. A mycologist may head out into the woods to study fungus where it naturally grows. Meanwhile, a psychologist may conduct informal surveys of different groups of people instead of bringing them into a lab one by one.
Accuracy of Data
Because lab experiments offer much more control over the environment, the resulting data will be more precise. No outside variables will affect the results, and researchers will be able to follow the scientific method more accurately. However, a highly controlled experiment may give inaccurate data.
Data collected in field research more accurately reflects real-world situations. For example, an ornithologist is more likely to observe birds’ natural behavior if those birds remain in their usual environment.
Following the Method
A lab experiment follows a strict procedure. Scientists use laboratory research notebooks to outline a specific hypothesis and design the experiment with precision. They can manipulate different variables to test each one’s validity and adjust the hypothesis as necessary.
Field experiments are a little looser in nature, with more improvisation required. Out in the natural world, scientists have less control over extraneous variables. They can only manipulate one independent variable at a time, so the steps of the scientific method may be more scattered.
Whether you perform lab experiments or field research, the data you gather is crucial to proving or disproving your hypothesis. The location of your research may depend largely on the field you’re in, but no matter where you are, you’ll need a sturdy lab book to hold that data. Know the key differences between laboratory and field research before you begin your experiment.