Everyone can be a scientist – Here’s how!

Not everyone who likes science, or finds it fascinating, is a scientist – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Science makes up the world around us, from the animals, to the microorganisms, and how they all interact with their environment, to how our own human lives work!

I have a science degree and loved my science work in microbiology, botany, comparative anatomy, small animal science, marine biology, and other science fields. Now I find myself using the knowledge that I gained in my jobs, but I miss doing science!

Fortunately, scientific contribution is at all of our fingertips! Citizen science, the collection and collection of data in relation to the natural world by members of the general public in collaboration with research scientists, is a great way for all of us to feel like we can do science! Scientists typically do not have the funding, manpower, or time to collect all of the data necessary to study their topic at the level required. For example, studying climate change requires scientists to be all over the world at the same time, looking at the same thing (birds, sea levels, temperature, etc…). This is near impossible, but by turning citizens into extensions of themselves, scientists can gather data from all over the globe!

For some projects, citizen scientists need to undergo a complex training so that they know how to properly collect data in order to make it as helpful and accurate as possible. For other projects, all you need is a cheerful enthusiasm and a basic training (typically reading the instructions on their web page)!

I have included here some of my favorite Citizen Science projects that I participate in or use to teach students about the natural world. These are great for anyone to participate in, but there is almost no limit to what projects are out there!

Photographing bees is a fun way to participate in science!

Bumblebee Watch – This project aims to track and conserve America’s bumblebee population. Due to the bumblebee’s large distribution, citizens armed with cameras (like your phone!) can take photos and document the range of all bumblebee species, including those that might be endangered or threatened! Once scientists are able to see and ID these species, they can better map certain species ranges and conserve these important pollinators. What you’ll need to participate:

  • An account with Bumble Bee Watch
  • Camera
  • Ability to visit places frequented by bees (your backyard garden, park, natural area, etc…)
Many trees that the TreeSnap study targets can be found while taking a nature walk! Take your camera/phone with you and explore the great wide world!

TreeSnap – This project aims at identifying invasive diseases and pests that target some particular tree species like Ash, American Chestnut, Hemlock, White Oak, American Elm, and others. Simply by photographing these tree species, you can help lead scientists to discover how individual tree species have managed to survive in order to use that knowledge to protect all trees from these invasive diseases/pests! What you’ll need to participate:

  • An account with TreeSnap
  • Camera
  • Knowledge of Tree ID (can be obtained from field guides!)
  • Ability to visit natural places that may be home to select tree species (forests, parks, naturalized areas, etc…)
No matter how common the birds are, or even if you see the same ones every day, submitting bird lists is great! This helps scientists understand bird movement, migration, and how they are impacted by climate change better.

eBird – This is the largest biodiversity citizen science project, with over 100 million bird sightings contributed each year! By collecting bird counts and lists from all over the globe throughout the entire year, scientists are able to monitor individual species population, observe population histories, create species maps, and understand migrations and movements! You can submit simple lists, with or without photos! (if a specific bird sighting turns up as “rare” in your area, you will be asked to submit an image so that scientists can confirm the sighting) What you’ll need to participate:

  • An account with eBird
  • Knowledge of bird ID (field guides work!)
  • Camera (optional at most times)
Dragonflies lay their eggs in the water to grow big and strong! In fact, a dragonfly spends most of it’s life in the water, only emerging for a short while as an adult.

Creek Critters – This project not only walks citizen scientists through the ID of stream macroinvertebrates (like crayfish or dragonfly nymphs), but it also allows real-world scientists to create a comprehensive stream health report! What you’ll need to participate:

  • Creek Critters App
This is a perfect example of science in our every-day lives! I found this adorable tree frog in the parking lot of a grocery store, so I quickly moved him to a nearby tree to avoid getting squished by a car. I snapped a photo with my camera to use to help my ID him and to submit for the survey!

PARS – The PA Amphibian and Reptile Survey is designed to help scientists collect data about populations of amphibians and reptiles (collectively known as Herps) in order to understand ranges, population health, and movement. Citizen Scientists go out and search for these critters by flipping over logs, looking under stream rocks, and simply observing the world during hikes and nature walks! If you see one of these species, record it! This project is ideal for participants who don’t have a smartphone to download apps with. What you’ll need to participate:

  • Email Access to email sightings with
  • Knowledge of Herpetology / Herp ID (field guides work!)
Many nature centers, like the Bucks County Audubon Society, host annual butterfly counts. Find a count near you to get started easily with this project!

North American Butterfly Count – While this project takes a little more work on the Citizen Scientist’s part, this is still a great and worthwhile project! By registering a count with the North American Butterfly Association, or by joining a pre-registered count (a lot of Nature Centers host these projects), the general public will be able to learn a little bit about these fascinating pollinators and go out into a set area to monitor for them! Once the project time has gone up, citizen scientists will submit their findings so that scientists can monitor movement, migration, population numbers and health of butterflies and skippers. What you’ll need to participate:

  • Access to Counting event (you may create and register a count, or join a pre-existing count event)
  • An account with the North American Butterfly Association
  • Camera (optional at times!)
  • Knowledge of Butterfly ID (field guides work and training will be provided at count events!)

Hopefully now you will be inspired to join in on one of these great projects. The natural world is at your fingertips. Go forth and discover!

It’s always a great time exploring the natural world and it’s so easy to get excited about your discoveries! Here, after searching a local creek, I stumbled upon the cutest baby snapping turtle! What will you find?

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