By Alia Smith

Citizen science is a great way to connect with the world around you, learn about different fields, and experience what it’s like to do research. Check out these platforms to find projects that you can feel good about contributing to!

Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research. In recent years, citizen science projects have continued to grow in popularity and accessibility. Projects take vastly different forms, allowing people of all ages to participate from a computer or out in the field. It is a great opportunity to expand your skills, be part of the research process, and simply have fun. They can also act as an opportunity to dip your toe into different fields with more hands-on opportunities than are available in a school setting. If you are interested in watersheds, try a project where you can look at local streams. If you are interested in ornithology, try a project surveying local birds. is a way to safely explore fields that may otherwise have barriers to entry or other associated risks. It gives women and girls access to research that would otherwise be dominated by men.

Citizen Science is a way to safely explore fields that may otherwise have barriers to entry or other associated risks. It gives women and girls access to research that would otherwise be dominated by men. These experiences can help you decide whether or not a career in one of these fields is for you and can show potential colleges your initiative and curiosity. It is the means through which I discovered that I was capable of doing scientific research. It allowed me to try research methods in different fields, and figure out what I wanted to do. Below are 5 platforms to find projects that will spark your curiosity and broaden your perspectives on science. 

CitSci

A young woman in an astronaut helmet. This image represents how everyone can be a scientist when contributing to citizen science projects.

Photo: Mikhail Nilov

CitSci is a locally run citizen science platform based in Fort Collins, Colorado, and developed by CSU professors.  If you are looking for field-based projects to which you can contribute independently, check out what CitSci has to offer. Their projects allow people to make and record observations and contribute to a larger database to be analyzed by scientists. They have projects located across the globe, so you’re sure to find one near you. Projects typically focus on environmental and conservation sciences, with two of their most popular projects being the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ Bald Eagle Watch and Utah Water Watch. You can even participate in the project I helped develop: SpruceSpotter. This project seeks to assess the Spruce Ips infestation taking place in spruce trees across the CSU campus.

 

National Geographic

National Geographic offers citizen science projects both online and in person. Many of their in-person projects require training and practice before you can participate, and research windows tend to be limited to certain dates. This is a great option if you are looking to dedicate a significant amount of time to a project or if you’d like to gain experience in a specific subject. You can get out into the field to do things like measure light pollution or measure snow depth. They also have projects based completely online, like one searching for exoplanets with NASA. 

 

Scistarter

Scistarter is a platform with thousands of citizen science projects. There are in-person projects like one monitoring Colorado waterbirds and online projects where you can classify white blood cells on blood smears from rhesus macaque monkeys. If you have a cat who likes to play fetch, you can document their behaviors on the Fetching Cats project which studies feline social communication. Their projects—like those on other platforms—require different levels of commitment and training. The Colorado Waterbird Project, for example, can take 1 hour, or several consecutive days depending on the amount of time you choose to invest.

 

Smithsonian

Photo: Ann H
This photo represents how citizen science can contribute the missing piece to complex research projects

The Smithsonian Institution has always supported citizen science, with its founder, James Smithson, being described as a “gentleman-chemist”1.  They offer both in-person and online projects, each done in collaboration with a University or scientific institute such as Columbia University or the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. You can even help transcribe Smithsonian collections to make them accessible online for research and education. 

 

Zooniverse

Zooniverse hosts a wide variety of citizen science projects in almost every field, including history and the arts, in addition to STEM fields. Their website allows you to search by subject, making it easy to find a citizen science project in whatever field you are interested in. All of their projects are computer-based, meaning you can get involved right from home. You can locate deep sea corals or tag trees for forest restoration research, among nearly 100 other projects. Projects usually involve huge amounts of data, but individual tasks take a short time to complete so you can volunteer according to your schedule. 

 

You Make a Difference 

Citizen science can help you gain invaluable experience while contributing to scientific research that benefits people and the planet. It helps us to tackle monumental and pressing issues like climate change and biodiversity loss. Without people offering their support, huge swaths of data might never be analyzed and used for policy that impacts our future. As technology improves, citizen scientists become a more crucial component of scientific research. Citizen science is a way of learning and exploring the world with a positive and significant impact.

 

Author Bio

Alia Smith on her graduation day, holding her diploma from Colorado State University

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alia Smith is the programming associate for Pretty Brainy. She recently graduated from Colorado State University with a master’s in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. For her thesis, Alia studied the use of citizen/community science to study pollinator decline in National Parks. She is passionate about science communication and connecting people with science.



References

 1Smithsonian Institution. “Citizen Science.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed April 23, 2024. https://www.si.edu/volunteer/citizenscience.