At the ripe old age of 14, I made a decision which significantly limited my future career choices. I did not take biology. And, at the age of 19, I left my study of physics and chemistry behind and pursued the humanities and business.
Since that time, I’ve often regretted these choices that removed the opportunities that a career in science might have provided. I wish now that I had the science background that would allow me to contribute solutions to significant global issues. However, while I recognize that I will never lead a scientific research project, I’ve come to realize that I can play a small role in the scientific process by engaging in a Citizen Science project.
National Geographic defines Citizen Science as “the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge.” Citizen Science may involve community-based groups that generate ideas and reach out to scientists for assistance. Or, more commonly, Citizen Science involves scientists reaching out to the community to seek assistance with their project. Citizen Science makes research less expensive and provides more data.
Citizen-based science is not new. In the late 1800s Wells Cooke looked for volunteers who would collect information about bird migration patterns; this was the start of one of the first government-led Citizen Science projects, “the North American Bird Phenology Program.”
Technology has allowed Citizen Science to expand significantly in the last 25 years. The Internet allows scientists to reach out to the community to ask for help. Smartphones allow us to share information quickly and easily. And GPS receivers make it possible to provide real-time information about the location of species or situations.
So, what do Citizen Scientists do? They count birds and bees, plants and animals and all manner of other creatures, they monitor water quality, and they track public health events, to name just a few.
There are Citizen Science projects available that specifically engage youth. Perhaps these projects will be the impetus for today’s 14-year-old to choose to study biology.
If you are interested in finding a Citizen Science project that matches your interest, the Government of Canada’s Citizen Science Portal links to projects across Canada in a variety of disciplines. Citizen Science is a great way to get involved in science and make a difference in an area you are concerned about. If you have been involved in a Citizen Science project or if you sign up for one, we’d love to hear about it. Let us know what you’re up to here.