by Julie Hecht
Hello! Yes, you there! You! Yes you! The one standing there pointing at yourself. Yes, I mean you. I know all about you, well, all three of you:
You are a graduate student who has said “YES!” to 5+ years of research. You are strapped for time and honestly surprised you’re even reading this post. Your floor is covered with research papers, Methods sections and draft Introductions. Open on your laptop are edits to a grant application due yesterday to your supervisor. Your plate is getting more full by the minute.
You are an undergrad taking a first look at the world of research. You’ve just joined an incredibly cool lab. You are excited! This is exciting! People are designing studies and asking questions about the world. You are part of it!
You are the post-doc, an old hat in the field by now. Experienced and confident.
But if you don’t know about citizen science, you are all in the same boat, which is one step behind researchers who know about citizen science.
Citizen science is not tied to a particular discipline or field. It is not associated with just one methodology. And there’s a simplicity to it that might make you surprised you hadn’t thought of it before. Citizen science is about including the general public in the scientific process. It is about “engaging millions of individuals—many of whom are not trained as scientists—in collecting, categorizing, transcribing, or analyzing scientific data” (Bonney et al., 2014).
And citizen science matters. Dr. Chris Filardi, who will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural #CitSci2015 conference, explains, “relationships between societal needs and public participation in the scientific process have not only improved understanding of the world around us, but have also expanded the impact of science on our lives.”
Scientists need citizens, and citizens need scientists. I give you: Citizen Science.
My name is Julie Hecht, and I use citizen science. I study the behavior and cognition of companion dogs, which means I am usually thinking about dogs. I want to know what your dog is doing and how your dog perceives and interacts with the world. I want to know how you and your dog spend your time together. And I want to know what people in Japan or Buenos Aires are doing with their dogs. But I know that I have limits. Being based in NYC, I can certainly reach local dogs and their owners, but it’s difficult to reach much further than that. That is, until citizen science.
By incorporating a citizen science approach, my research group and I were able to expand our reach. At the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab, we were able to conduct a citizen science project where anyone could send us short videos of how they play with their dog. We were able to glimpse into examples of dog-human play from all across the globe, and in the comfort of peoples’ homes and backyards. By incorporating citizen science, we were able to expand our research reach and scope.
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Citizen science is not just for the dogs. It is on the minds and in the practices of researchers from fields as seemingly disparate as biology and library science, genetics and conservation, ornithology and cybersecurity, among many others. Some researchers rely on citizen science to learn more about the mites on our faces. Others want help learning about penguin populations or figuring out DNA puzzles. “Please,” researchers at Project BudBurst say. “Join us in exploring plant responsiveness to changes in climate.” Scientific projects involving the public are limited by only our ability to think beyond the walls of the lab.
And don’t forget that grant bodies and organizations want to know whether you’ve considered the public in your proposals. “What benefits will your research have?” they ask. “Will your work leave the ivory tower?” Might it just be that citizen science is a way to engage more people in scientific activities? Could citizen science be a win-win for you in your area of research?
Hold that thought. If you are a student researcher—an undergrad, graduate student, or post-doc—it’s time to investigate adding another methodology and approach to your tool box. See you at #CitSci2015, February 11-12, 2015, in San Jose, California.
—Julie Hecht MSc, is a canine behavioral researcher, science writer and PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY, NYC. Julie regularly covers canine science at Dog Spies on Scientific American and at The Bark, and she investigates dog behavior and cognition with the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab. Follow Julie on Twitter @DogSpies
Bonney, R., Shirk, J.L., Phillips, T.B., Wiggins, A., Ballard, H.L., Miller-Rushing, A.J., Parrish, J.K., 2014. Next steps for citizen science. Science 343, 1436–1437.
Horowitz, A., Hecht, J., 2014. Categories and consequences of dog-human play: a citizen science approach. J. Vet. Behav. Clin. Appl. Res. 9, e15.