Most summers, I can be found in one of two places: collecting plants in remote Arctic field camps for the museum’s National Herbarium of Canada, or documenting the biodiversity of the deserts of “Mars” at the Mars Desert Research Station in southeast Utah.

What does a field camp at the top of our planet and the simulated surface of another have in common? The answer: isolation. Given global efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 by staying at home and working remotely, I wanted to share some top-tips for working in close-quarters that I’ve learned under the dome and out on the land.

  • Always do your share of the chores, and then a little bit more. The extra effort goes a long way, especially when your crewmates have spent long days working in an Arctic tent or in a 3 metre wide habitat. Believe me, your crewmates will appreciate it.
An Arctic field camp consisting of several tents. One man is working in the background, while another is working inside a tent in the foreground.
A botany field camp situated along the Coppermine River in 2014. Jeff Saarela (left) sorts the day’s collections, while Roger Bull (inside the tent on the right) starts dinner. Teamwork is critical for successful fieldwork. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
  • You can never be too prepared when it comes to your supply of coffee and tea. Get what you need and then get more. Then get a backup for your backup. Trust me, you don’t what to be stuck without caffeine several thousand kilometres from the nearest resupply. After all, at the Mars Desert Research Station, the name Starbucks takes on a whole new meaning.
  • If you’re running logistics for your Arctic camp or Martian outpost, it’s a thoughtful gesture to have a supply of your team’s favourite treats on hand. My colleague Roger Bull taught me to always have a secret stash as well, so that it’s a welcome surprise for when they need it most.
A white simulated mars habitat in the foreground, set in an empty red desert.
The Mars Desert Research Station in southeast Utah in 2014. Crews rotating through this habitat are isolated from the outside world to simulate the psychological conditions of working on Mars. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
  • Be kind to yourself. Being away from everyone other than your fellow botanists or astronauts is hard—just ask Mark Watney. When you need to, take a walk on the tundra to clear your mind, or head out for a stroll on the regolith. Just remember to don your spacesuit before entering the airlock!
A man wearing a simulated spacesuit in a desert.
Whenever crew members leave the Mars Desert Research Station during a simulation, they must wear a simulated spacesuit. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
  • Fieldnotes are the essential data researchers collect. While conducting fieldwork, jot down anything you want to remember: your feelings, successes, and thoughts. Who knows what will become useful?
Several tents in the Arctic.
The museum’s Arctic botany camp on the Soper River in Nunavut in 2012. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
  • And finally, remember that it will end. After our mission on “Mars,” I remember walking out of the habitat, proud of what we accomplished, but grateful to be back on Earth. My hope is that you, too, will feel proud of what you’ve done to help our community through this challenging time, excited to experience our wonderful planet anew.
Four people in a plane before and after conducting a month of fieldwork.
The museum’s Arctic Botany field team before (left) and after (right) a month of isolated fieldwork on the Soper River in Nunavut. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature