Become a Community Scientist

Three people with shovels working outdoors.
“Citizen Science Volunteers,” by Ivie Metzen for National Park Service, licensed under CC BY 2.0, Edited from original

PacSci is all about inspiring curious minds from all backgrounds to engage with science. In honor of this commitment, we are looking forward to participating in Global Citizen Science Month. This celebration takes place every year during the month of April and focuses on ways members of the community can get involved with scientific research and policy. Read on to learn more about community science and discover exciting projects that need help from people like you.

What exactly is community science?

Community science, also called citizen science, is a collaborative approach to scientific research that unites science professionals with science enthusiasts from within a community. These types of projects can range from small local movements to large global efforts.

The term community science is fairly new, but members of the public have been participating and contributing to science throughout history. One of the oldest organized community science projects is the National Audubon Society’s Winter Bird Count, which has been utilizing the support of community members to record local bird populations since the year 1900!

Woman wearing a ranger hat talking to children.
“Education Program”, by Ivie Metzen for National Park Service, licensed under CC BY 2.0, Edited from original

What does a community scientist do?

Traditionally, community science has leveraged the power of large numbers by bringing individuals together to support mass data collection or analysis. For example, researchers have invited participants to collect audio observations from around the world to map noise pollution. Community scientists have monitored algal blooms to help environmental scientists improve the health of water bodies. Other projects have aided astronomers by asking participants to analyze telescope images, revealing seas of new galaxies in uncharted regions of space.

Today, thanks to the integration of technology including smartphones and mobile apps, the type of work community scientists can participate in varies greatly from project to project. Try solving puzzles to support medical research, or go on a virtual tour of cities around the U.S. to help engineers design better sidewalks. The possibilities are endless.

Woman looks binoculars with a notepad and pen in one hand.
“Observing,” by Ivie Metzen for National Park Service, licensed under CC BY 2.0, Edited from original

Why do scientists need my help?

While community science projects can be fun and educational for participants, they also provide many benefits for professional researchers. Scientists and engineers often face limitations with time and funding when working on research. Community scientists can volunteer their time to provide direct support needed to overcome these constraints.

Working closely with the public gives researchers an opportunity to practice their science communication skills as they recruit community members for projects.

The collaborative nature of community science also expands who is able to participate in research. By enlisting the support of the public, researchers are able to tap into more diverse knowledge and ways of thinking.

Close up of hands planting in the ground.
“Reveg,” by Ivie Metzen for National Park Service, licensed under CC BY 2.0, Edited from original

How can I get involved?

Over the last few decades, the number and variety of community science projects has skyrocketed. This makes it possible to find projects connected to whatever topics might be currently sparking your curiosity.

To get started with finding a project, we highly recommend exploring trusted databases like SciStarter and Zooinverse. These sites host robust catalogues of community science projects with options that are accessible for all experience levels. Their lists are also kept up-to-date and often feature resources from collaborating scientists, so you get to learn exactly how your participation is supporting active research!

If you’re looking for a simple project to join this April, you’re in luck! The 2022 City Nature Challenge will be taking place later this month between April 29 and May 8.

The City Nature Challenge (CNC) started in 2016 as a wildlife data collection competition between the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today the project has become an international event with wildlife data collection taking place in cities around the world, including PacSci’s home – Seattle, WA! Learn how you can join in on this year’s challenge by visiting City Nature Challenge’s website.

And be sure to follow PacSci on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to share how you choose to celebrate being a community scientist! Stay curious!