Field Experience

I have lived and worked in East Africa, on and off, for the last 10 years. The majority of this time was spent in Uganda, though I’ve also worked in Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya. In 2009/2010, prior to joining the Dyson School for my PhD, I ran the Healthy Villages program for Uganda Village Project, a public health NGO in Eastern Uganda. In this capacity I planned, executed and evaluated village-level health programs related to malaria, malnutrition, HIV, and eye health.

More recently, I worked as the in-country coordinator for an NSF-funded household survey (the 2013 follow-up to a 2003 survey) PI’ed by Clark Gray (Geography, UNC). In half of the survey districts I additionally ran my own micronutrient-focused survey, two modules piggy-backing on the larger survey. This experience as a whole taught me a lot about running country-level surveys and projects. For instance…


Break from survey training at NARO Kawanda

I drafted our survey tool, and programmed the tablet interface for data entry. (This was done in Access — next time I hope to use ODK.) I also helped to run the enumerator training, a 1-week affair that covered tracking our 2003 households and their “split-off” households, conducting the household and plot surveys and gathering soil samples. The teams working in my “micronutrient districts” underwent additional training on gathering crop samples and weighing/measuring children.


Me in a cafe, talking to a team leader in the field.

From Kampala I oversaw data coming in, ran quality checks, and returned the results to enumerators who were data-cleaning in real time. I visited teams in the field to re-train on major issues. I spent a prodigious amount of time talking on the phone with survey team leaders to resolve tracking, survey, equipment and financial issues.


I brought >1,000 soil samples and ~600 crop samples back to Cornell for mineral analysis. Thousands of soil samples remained in Uganda for macronutrient analysis.

I oversaw lab technicians at the National Agriculture and Research Organization (NARO) while they processed my Cornell-bound crop and soil samples. I managed the final data-cleaning sessions for each survey team, ran a post-survey debrief, and returned all of our survey equipment to the various offices from which we had borrowed it.

After the survey was complete, I aggregated our data into raw stata files, and spearheaded all data cleaning efforts (for survey data, GIS data, and anthropomorphic data). Additionally, I worked with two labs at Cornell, assisting with the processing/labeling tasks associated with soil and crop micronutrient analysis.

This entire process was an immense learning experience for me. We didn’t execute everything perfectly, and I’ll do some things differently next time. But all in all, we did well.  I feel confident in my ability to carry out large-scale surveys or experiments in the future as an autonomous researcher.