Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Citizen science-What it is and how almost anyone can get involved

Watch birds in your own yard with Cornell
Citizen science is a type of scientific research where part or all of the project is done by amateur
scientists. It's a great way to get involved with research, broaden your knowledge, and make a difference. Practically anyone can get involved with a project these days if you have internet access: school children, busy professionals, retirees, stay-at-home parents, undergraduates looking for experience, or anyone else with an interest in nature. You don't have to be an expert, and you'll learn along the way. There are projects you can participate in without ever leaving your house and projects where you definitely get to go far from home!

Take for example what I would argue is one of the most well-known citizen projects: The Cornell Ornithology's FeederWatch . Count the birds you see at your feeder from November to April for FeederWatch and your data will be used by researchers at Cornell to track species distribution and abundance. More than 20,000 people from across North America participate in FeederWatch and the project has been around for decades. Another citizen science project out of Cornell is NestWatch. With NestWatch, participants record any nests they find and monitor the birds in those nests. Scientists then use this data to study reproductive success. Cornell has quite a few options if you're looking to get involved and watch birds.

Keep track of pollinators for The Sunflower Project
If birds aren't your thing, help scientists keep track of pollinators with The Sunflower Project. You'll pick a spot in your yard or in a public place, record the common name or species of the plant, and watch for pollinators for at least five minutes (if you sit for 10 minutes and don't see any pollinators, that's still data). If you're really a go-getter, you can use their resources to learn to identify different pollinators, which will help The Sunflower Project out even more. Given that many pollinator population numbers are in decline, projects like this are more important than ever.

Looking to head further from home? Away from your backyard? Then a great organization with multiple project options is Earthwatch Institute. There are opportunities specifically for families, teens, or you can join an expedition on your own. You can study caterpillars and climate change in Costa Rica for nine days, lions and their prey in Kenya for two weeks, Darwin's finches in the Galapagos, or choose something more local, such as wetlands in South Carolina. These expeditions aren't cheap, but this is an excellent institution. No unorganized field trips, unanswered emails or phone calls when you have questions, or leaders with little experience or who are poor teachers. Earthwatch was founded in 1971 and is respected in the scientific world. You'll learn a lot and it will look great on your resume.

For more opportunities, check out SciStarter, a website where you can search for projects based on topic or on location/time (projects at night, projects at home, entirely online, and so forth).

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