You flag a social media debate on the practice of using volunteers for field research in biology (Nature 522, 131; 2015). In our view, the solution is not to eliminate these positions, but to make them more worthwhile and accessible to students who need such experience — for example, to add weight to their graduate school applications or to test their commitment to field-research careers.
Unpaid internships are seen as elitist in that they can be taken up only by people who can afford to support themselves. However, banning volunteers would markedly reduce the availability of field positions.
A better strategy would be for funding agencies such as the US National Science Foundation to allocate research fellowships to trainees from under-represented socio-economic groups. This support would cover field expenses and provide a reasonable stipend. Such a system would also allow researchers to identify and recruit promising candidates and would facilitate valuable field experience for a more diverse set of applicants.