By Veronica Winter
Purchase College, Environmental Studies and Biology major, interested in ecology
Citizen science is a newer concept attempting to be implemented in many scientific fields. Citizen science is a way to get the public’s help on projects, like the one that Dr. Jackson is conducting. Volunteers can help out in a variety of ways; whether that's in the field data collection, online collection, or data analysis. By having such volunteers allows for larger scale projects to take place with greater efficiency. For us, it’s having our volunteers collect as many bugs as they can; terrestrial and aquatic, big and small. The goal here is two-fold; get a greater number of people to collect data and open the floor up to communication. Science communication is important for numerous reasons and helps debunk some of the myths of science. Myths such as being stuck in a lab all day and needing to know advanced chemistry and math for anything you want to study in order to be successful. For me, I never thought science was a field that I would be able to be a part of. Scientists always appeared to be people with a natural gift that always knew their place in this special club that few could join. It wasn’t until later in my life that I attempted to get into this world and realized how open and multi-layered it really was. So, to have the opportunity to help others get involved and interested is really something special.
We have met an array of people from all walks of life. Naturalists, educators of all levels, parents and grandparents, young kids interested in science, and teenagers who couldn’t have cared less (until they collected their first bug.) The people we meet each week may all be different but the days often start off the same; intimidated and shy at first, followed by intense excitement and not wanting to stop. At our most recent citizen science day, we had two girls, Molly and Emma, who were going into 4th and 8th grade respectively. The two were dragged out by their grandma and while Molly couldn’t wait to jump in, Emma wasn’t as into it. She had told us about her fear of spiders and how she wanted nothing to do with them. As time went on, both seemed equally as eager and by the end of the day; Emma was elated about the number of bugs that she collected (spiders included.) Who knows, maybe one day these girls will want to get into science, and maybe not, but having this opportunity to contribute to scientific research is something they can always take with them.
A question is raised though, how does the data look? Enthusiasm for sure pays off! The groups always seem to shock us with the amount of bugs they find both in the aquatic and terrestrial settings. We still have a ton of data (and bugs) to go through, but so far it is clear that citizens have been a previously untapped resource. With their help, projects such as these can potentially be expanded from national parks to other areas, and in larger numbers.
Science communication is a big up and coming field that is so important for a variety of reasons. Diversity, whether in the the world or the workplace, is important, because everyone deserves to have someone to look up to. Someone to help mentor future generations into not thinking like I did, to think “Why not me” and to think that its all accessible. I’ve had some great role models in my academic career, but it wasn’t until this year that I had a female mentor to help guide me through my academic dilemmas and constant questions. Having someone like you, whether thats a fellow woman or first generation student or whoever you align yourself with, it’s important that that person exists in your life to show you that the obstacles are temporary but the payoff is all worth it. Wouldn’t it be great for kids to get that opportunity earlier in life?
Science is an amazing field full of opportunity and wonder, sometimes though, someone needs to open the door and help facilitate that curiosity. For the kids and parents and everyone in between who have been coming out, I hope we have been those people.