What is citizen science?
Why is it important? And what does it have to do with travel?
Jessi and I are big supporters of the idea that every journey can be a learning experience, and for us, that includes being involved in things like citizen science, whether at home or abroad.
Citizen science is the global initiative to involve amateur scientists or science enthusiasts in scientific research.
The ultimate goal here is to help increase awareness of scientific endeavors, promote scientific interests and careers, and to advance scientific knowledge. The great part is, anyone reading this can be involved in citizen science, no matter what your background or skills might be!
You can get your hands dirty doing field work and help find a cure for a disease with the fantastic research initiatives going on around the world. There are opportunities to fit every possible scientific interest, and collaboration opportunities in a diverse array of countries.
So, citizen science piques your interest, or you know someone who might be interested.
Where do you go from here?
Think about it: how cool is it to be able to change the world and pursue your passions, while helping communities and scientists at the same time? We live in a truly exciting time to be involved with science.
Whether you’d like to volunteer abroad on a science initiative, or contribute to science from the comfort of your computer–even a smartphone app!–we want to help connect you with some of the best opportunities out there.
Citizen Science Abroad
If you’re looking to leave your armchair and get into the great outdoors, there are a number of citizen science opportunities that fit every budget; most of them are free of charge!
My first field experience was through a generous scholarship from Millipore that allowed me to attend a two week field camp in North American archaeology. The project was funded and run through Earthwatch, an organization dedicated to helping people volunteer around the world on scientific projects ranging from ecological conservation to archaeology and paleontology.
My time with Earthwatch was life-changing and, while the trips can be expensive, I highly recommend them to lifelong learners as well as teachers and students. Check out their opportunities for scholarships for educators throughout the U.S., UK and Australia, and for students in Los Angeles County as well as Australia!
Curious about just how to begin the life-changing scavenger hunt that is birding? Not sure what birding is?
Or perhaps you’d like to help the National Audubon Society conduct citizen science in your area? From travel opportunities to nature photography collaboratives, you can help impact avian science and ecology with this great organization. One of the oldest citizen science initiatives in the United States, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, has been running strong for the last 100 years!
National Geographic Citizen Science: The Great Nature Project
A household name, most people are familiar with National Geographic. But did you know that Nat. Geo., as it’s affectionately called, is also a huge supporter of citizen science?
There are many opportunities in citizen science that are promoted by National Geographic, but we’re fans of The Great Nature Project. Here you can find photography tips, educator guides, activities, and ways to share your snapshots of the natural world via social media. I can’t express how cool of a tool this is! As a global community, we can really take charge of mapping global biodiversity, all while connecting with an international database of fellow nature lovers. If you are a scientist or have a pertinent research question, you can also share your information via iNaturalist, the Great Nature Project’s robust data repository, supported by the California Academy of Sciences.
National Wildlife Federation
The National Wildlife Federation plugs the idea that citizen science can be as simple as teaching someone about the natural world, cleaning up a local park, identifying a local area in your town as a community wildlife habitat, and sharing your citizen science stories online. Rightfully so! There are so many ways to be involved in citizen science, and we love the National Wildlife Federation’s broad approach.
Their Wildlife Watch program allows scientists and first timers to post their stories, share photos on Flickr, and help document the natural fauna and flora of your neighborhood.
For Students and Educators
Your one-stop shop for kickstarting small scientific projects: SciStarter! This neat online resource allows students, teachers, and those simply interested in citizen science to find a project that best fits their budget and needs. Even a trip abroad can fit an afternoon of ecological or scientific observation using the tips and tricks found on this resource.
This site is popular with parents looking for weekend activities with their kids, and with home-schoolers, too!
Scientific American Master List
Oh, Scientific American. This excellent magazine spreads the joy of science in accessible bites, with beautiful artwork and compelling stories.
Here they share their hugely comprehensive list of citizen science, and we’ve hand-picked a few of the ones that tugged on our hearts and ignited our curiosity.
Three of our favorite digital resources
The resources listed below are just a few from the Scientific American list, but we’re super excited about them! Here’s why.
Guess what I did today? I helped categorize and digitalize a bunch of fossil trilobite illustrations from the year 1900. Then I went and read a little about North American archaeological pottery from 1868, and helped preserve these historic journals in the process. Science Gossip, a subset of Zooniverse, gave me that super cool opportunity!
Are we excited about Zooniverse?
Oh yes. Oh yes, we are.
Do you like playing games and taking quizzes online? Sure, many of us do. How about taking a quiz on how…um.
What was I saying?
How distractable we all are!
In the process you can help researchers study cognitive ability and brain function.
Too. Flippin’. Cool.
Check it out at IgnoreThat!
This cool little resource is great for students of AP Biology, A-level Biology, or college-level molecular biology. You can compete against teammates online, all while learning about how proteins fold and atoms bond. It’s more than a little addictive. Not to mention your work will eventually help researchers figure out how proteins configure themselves through bonding and other interactions within our bodies.
At home or abroad.
Citizen science is a fulfilling way to get involved with scientific research. It can be a life-changing way to see the world and give back to communities, scientific research, and local ecosystems. And it can even be conducted from your home.
What’s not to love about these exciting initiatives? Think about joining a citizen science cause today. It can open up a new world of scientific interest in your life, or in the lives of learners of all stripes.
We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on citizen science. Let us know in the comments below!