March 2, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Guest writer Mackenzie Valentine discusses the many ways you can get involved in science - without having a degree.

Mackenzie Valentine
22nd January 2021

Have you ever been interested in science but never thought there was a way for you to get involved? You certainly don’t need a PhD to do science! Many people may be motivated to continue learning or advance research that lies outside their career or field of study, and citizen science is an effective way to do this.

Citizen science is a trending topic that connects researchers and the public in new ways. In short, citizen science is the practise of public participation and collaboration with researchers to advance scientific knowledge. It entails teamwork between scientists and anyone who is willing to assist in research projects, regardless of their level of expertise.

Scientists or organizations can utilize this method in order to collect additional data. A well-known website which does this is iNaturalist. Having over a million users, it connects naturalists, biologists and citizen scientists to map and share observations and data, in addition to hosting discussions on species biodiversity. Unsurprisingly, the advancement of technology and the internet has allowed these programs to become more widespread and accessible. Many media apps and websites allow people to search through databases, upload data and connect within a community of amateurs and scientists. This method is highly advantageous to both scientists and the communities of people who participate.

Citizen science is useful in various scientific disciplines, and there is a wide range of roles and complexity of the work that can be done. This is the time to get involved- don’t shy away! I urge you to explore the topics which interest you. Even if you have no background in the area, there is likely something for you!

There are benefits to the public and scientists alike, especially their relationship with each other. Within this relationship is the deepening of the public’s understanding of science. Allowing people to take part in the process may help to eliminate scepticism. They will see the ways we as scientists attempt to eliminate bias and will hopefully gain a greater appreciation for the process. More active learning is possible because it is one thing to read about scientific methods, but to participate hands-on enables an exciting, broader understanding. It can inspire communities to contribute to local projects to improve their own environment or to help people find a community of their own, whom they share a common interest with.

Citizen science eliminates time and resource constraints by having thousands of individuals collecting or analysing data which can allow for otherwise challenging projects to be completed much easier. People can participate remotely from around the globe, adding another layer of possibility in terms of efficiency and sample size.

In a survey, negative data is also an important find. People could be surveying for the presence of something, but if not found, its absence is still data and helps to provide a better understanding as opposed to no data at all. Citizen science can make research accessible to a wider audience in hopes that it will help people make decisions that influence science policy. People may become more engaged in the decisions that affect the environment around them if they know more personally of the consequences or ways it will affect them.

The European Citizen Science Association was established to enhance citizen participation in science and its contribution to policy processes. Their vision is stated as all citizens of Europe are valued and empowered as actors in advancing knowledge and innovation and supporting sustainable development. They are always open to new members and the ECSA supports its members by coordinating projects with a wide selection of working groups which focus on a particular theme related to citizen science. Some groups include BioBlitz, Citizen Science for Health, Air Quality and more. Browse through to see if there’s a group for you here.

The British Science Association which participates in a British Science Week previously collaborated with The Plastic Tide, which aims to locate plastic along the beaches. It is important to remove any plastic from the beaches in order to prevent it from deteriorating into microplastic, which can become even more detrimental than the immediate impacts of larger objects such as consumption or suffocation. The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has a list of resources and apps to explore, record and report local nature as well as the current projects taking place where volunteers are always encouraged to join.

All such benefits demonstrate the numerous positive ways taking part in citizen science is advantageous for all. I urge anyone who is interested in a subject or certain discipline to explore the ways you can get involved as it appears there are many avenues for participating in research initiatives. Your contribution would be highly appreciated and beneficial to you too. It is never too late to keep learning and exploring.

Mackenzie Valentine is a recent grad from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia with a BSc in Marine Biology. Despite not working in the field, she wanted ways to contribute to research projects in her community. In writing this article, she aims to share this idea and show that there are many ways to get involved in science.