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Become a Citizen Scientist

Eva Lewandowski

There is a growing need for volunteers to help with science. Scientists who track water quality in our rivers, study migration patterns of birds and butterflies, or work to protect plant and animal species from extinction often need large amounts of data from across the country, or even the world. That’s where you come in; members of the public can volunteer to help, after careful training, with collecting information about the world around them.

These types of projects, which partner scientists with exciting research questions and members of the public who want to help, are often referred to as citizen science projects. Volunteering with a citizen science project can run the gamut from watching birds out your window to pulling invasive plants or collecting water samples from local lakes and streams. Some projects require a time commitment as small as one day, while others encourage volunteers to stay with them for years. The volunteers for these projects, who are called citizen scientists, can be adults or children.

Volunteering with nature helps scientists answer questions about the world, and it has a lot of benefits for the volunteers as well. Participants get to spend time outside and can meet new people if they volunteer as part of a group. Depending on the project, some volunteers get plenty of exercise, while others get a chance to relax and watch nature. Volunteers can learn about plants, animals, and ecosystems, and they have the unique opportunity to get an insider’s view of scientific research.

You might be thinking that spending time outside with nature sounds like a lot of fun, but perhaps you’re not convinced that you are qualified to participate in a science program, or that you won’t be able to make a real contribution. Rest assured that this is not the case! Well-trained volunteers have been shown to be effective and efficient at collecting data about nature, and many projects have been successfully using volunteers for years. Most projects do not require any special skills or traits from their volunteers, other than the ability to read and follow simple instructions, and sometimes an internet connection. If you decide to volunteer, you will receive plenty of training, either online, in person, or through written instructions; before youknow it you will be ready to become a citizen scientist.

There are hundreds of projects looking for volunteers just like you. To find one, visit citizenscience.org or scistarter.com, and start volunteering!

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