When I used to think of scientists, I thought of people in lab coats putting chemicals into a vial and watching what happens or staring at slides under a microscope. It took me until my junior year of college to realize science is happening all around you, all the time.
The projects listed below are more outdoors, observation-based, ecological science projects that require little to no prior experience.
What is it? E-bird is a website by the Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
What do I have to do? Keep track of the birds you see daily. This could be anywhere! Even if it’s only in your back yard and you only know a few species of birds, some data is better than no data at all 🙂 Then, upload your sightings onto the website.
Why should I do it? Some studies have compared e-bird data to data collected by trained scientists and found it’s statistically the same! Isn’t that amazing?
Plus, it’s free and you can put as much or as little effort in as you’d like.
What is it? A website sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences, similar to e-bird but not limited to birds!
What do I have to do? Visit the website, make an account, and start uploading!
Why should I do it? iNaturalist has an especially handy feature where you can snap pictures of organisms you don’t know, and someone will provide you with an identification of the organism. They also have citizen science projects that focus on anything you can imagine. It’s a little more customizable than e-bird. It’s also free and you can put in as little or as much effort as you’d like.
3) Neighborhood Nestwatch
What is it? A program run by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
What do I have to do? Unfortunately this is only available in certain cities. Check http://neighborhoodnestwatch.weebly.com/ to sign up.
Why should I do it? Each year a scientist will come to your home and catch birds in your backyard! They will put a unique combination of color bands on the birds so you can keep re-sighting them all year long. Whenever you see a bird with colored bands again, you’re providing important data on bird survivorship in urban areas! Plus it’s free J
4) Natures Notebook
What is it? A phenology based study for citizen scientists.
What do I have to do? Go to https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook, make an account, do a ten-minute training session, and then start making observations. Upload your results to the website.
Why should I do it? Phenology is the study of timing of life events. If you keep making the same observations year after year you can get a sense of what’s changing around you. Climate change (which I just found out is actually fake and invented by the Chinese… sorry for the sarcasm) will continue to change when things happen in nature. This website is super customizable to your interests. There’s over 1100 species you can choose to observe! One of my colleagues used nature’s notebook data to present a research poster at a science symposium. Plus, it’s free!
5) EarthWatch Institute
What is it? A program scientists use to find volunteers to help them with their research
What do I have to do? Unfortunately, these expeditions do cost money. But just head to earthwatchinstitute.org and book your trip!
Why should I do it? I had the privilege of working with a few EarthWatch teams and let me tell you… you do exactly what I did as a trained scientist. You are conducting research and collecting data that will be used in published papers! Neat right? They have both adult and teen teams. Plus, some of the places you can visit are breathtakingly beautiful and some of the animals you can work on are super charismatic.
6) Volunteering with a graduate student or professor
What is it? Almost all colleges and universities are conducting some sort of research.
What do I have to do? I’d start by checking out the website of your nearest college or university and looking at professors. Each professor will have a research interest whether it’s the human brain, bacteria, a certain disease, birds, mammals, or fish. Chances are if you’re interested in it, someone is probably studying it! Then send an email or call the professor if their phone number is listed and express interest in volunteering. They may say yes, they may say no, but don’t let that deter you. Keep trying!
Why should I do it? You’re going to be helping people just like me, and most of us love to share our love of science. Almost every project I have worked on has volunteers from outside the program and their contributions are so insanely appreciated.
7) Write down observations
What is it? Exactly what it sounds like!
What do I have to do? Simply make observations on the world around you. What day of the year did your favorite flower start to bloom? When did you see your first baby deer of the season? When was the first snowfall of the year?
Why should I do it? This is a perfect way to see the changes in phenology right in your backyard. They may not seem to differ much year after year, but what about 10 years from now? 20? I’ve seen phenology models made from citizen scientist data and they’re awesome!
Thanks for reading,