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Why You Should Become a Citizen Scientist, and 5 Tools to Get Started

Student Work
by Halia Eastburn Sep 5, 2014

Today, we can map the genome of any species and measure particles that make up all matter in the universe. We’re constantly innovating across all areas of science. We’ve reached a point in time where anyone can contribute to this progress, no matter their occupation or global location, without needing a degree. By becoming a citizen scientist you can have a hand in the next big discovery and learn things you never would’ve imagined.

Why should you become a citizen scientist?
  • Your participation is important. Projects that can employ hundreds or thousands of data collectors have a higher chance of success. For example, migratory pathways used by birds were once modeled on limited data and conjecture. By compiling data collected through the eBird app, scientists were able to accurately map three major flyways in the US.
  • You get a free education. Whether you’re interacting with an online app or headed into the field, as a citizen scientist you get exclusive access to tools, locations, and information that you might not otherwise. Many projects provide a certain amount of training and other resources to satiate your curiosity about the subject you’re involved with.
  • It becomes a networking opportunity. Being part of a community of like-minded individuals working towards a similar goal is the perfect environment for networking. You’ll meet professionals in the field as well as enthusiasts from all walks of life.
  • It’s fun! Many projects utilize game-like apps to make data collection more interactive. Check out YardMap. Some projects are reliant on observation-based data you might already be exposed to through a hobby, such as stargazing or bird-watching. Citizen science can be so fun and easy that with proper supervision even children can contribute.
How can you become a citizen scientist?
  • Zooniverse is an awesome platform for finding projects in every discipline. After a simple sign-up you can begin analyzing cancer data, characterizing bat calls, or finding black holes.
  • SciStarter is another easy-to-use search engine for ongoing projects. You could observe bird-migration patterns or identify infection in bees, to name a couple opportunities.
  • Scientific American has a great list of available citizen-science programs. They range from coastal studies to tracking animal populations to studying air visibility.
  • Local nature centers, observatories, sanctuaries, and museums often have opportunities for citizen scientists. Try a simple internet search about citizen science and volunteering locally.

Make sure to pick a project that fits your schedule so you can be a dependable participant for its duration. And above all else, have fun with it! You may not be a traditional scientist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make an impactful contribution.

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