I want to be a scientist in my spare time!
October 6, 2009 7:32 AM   Subscribe

How can I be use my spare time to advance a scientific cause?

I always thought I'd be a scientist when I grew up, but it hasn't worked out that way. I'm happy with what I'm doing now, but something still gnaws at me to get involved with something scientific - astronomy and other physical sciences, mostly.

I'm looking for something that I can do to help a scientific cause or project - something more involved than SETI@Home, but is not too demanding on what little leisure time I have. Any ideas?
posted by adverb to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fold.it.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Galaxy Zoo is an ongoing project where you can help inspect and classify hundreds of thousands of galaxies.
posted by lucidium at 8:12 AM on October 6, 2009

Amateur Scientist sites

Some of these are "just" fun experiments to do, but others are "real" science that you can help out with. I did The Great Sunflower Project this summer. Not astro, but still fun collecting actual data. It took about 1.5-2 hours total over the summer.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on October 6, 2009

I am a scientist, and I owe an incredible debt to the developers of the open source projects I rely on. I think the availability of Python, R, and the rich set of packages available for both, will do far more for science than the crowdsourcing mechanical turk suggestions.

There is a lot of open source software that was created to "scratch an itch" and then distributed, but the useful ones are the ones with some polish—good documentation, easy deployment, wide testing, an easy-to-use web site. So there's a lot you could contribute even if you aren't a superstar programmer.
posted by grouse at 8:42 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could try aavso.org, American Association of Variable Star Observers.
posted by Schmucko at 9:08 AM on October 6, 2009

Seconding Ggrouse on the software. Do you have any special skills or interest that may be applicable? What is your day job?
posted by springload at 9:13 AM on October 6, 2009

There's the great backyard bird count, which uses data collected by citizens to track changing bird populations.
posted by paulg at 9:27 AM on October 6, 2009

Start a science blog, where you write about new scientific discoveries in an easy-to-read fashion. Communicating well and getting people excited about science helps advance science in all sorts of tangible and intangible ways.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2009

Consider volunteering as an experimental subject. Clinical trials to assess safety of new treatments can take anything from a few hours to a few months, and stringent regulations mean they're far safer than you'll probably think.

There are plenty of other non-medical experimenters crying out for subjects. You could choose to do anything from taking filling in questionnaires for psychology researchers to answering verbal reasoning puzzles while sitting in a brain scanner. Stuff like this is completely non-invasive and is arranged to totally predicatble schedules. Most academic researchers will be overjoyed to get a volunteer who isn't a college student - healthy 18-21 year olds are by far the most researched demographic, simply because there's so many of them hanging around near most labs. You get to take part in cutting edge research, then have all the study's findings explained to you when it's over.

There's also the faint possibility of perks: several of my friends have been involved in psychology / neurobiology trials that involved scanning their brains while taking quizzes and, for some reason, picturing goats. At the end, each was given a CD full of fMRI images of the insides of their heads. Not very useful, but pretty cool.

Your local university would probably be a good place to start looking for volunteer slots.
posted by metaBugs at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2009

Agitate for increased science funding. Support pro-science candidates.

Honestly the best thing you could do - medium term - is make sure that gradeschool through junior high teachers in public schools are of a high enough quality, and teach an interesting and rigorous enough curriculum, that we dont lose generations to scientific thought. Even if the students don't come out scientists, they will be less succeptible to anti-science brainwashing.
posted by lalochezia at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2009

Set up a Google alert to news stories on the science topics you're interested in, and if there are uninformed discussions following, gently interject facts. (This depends on your issues being at least mildly contentious.)

Or: if there is a science museum/observatory/planetarium in your area, consider becoming a volunteer docent, if they can accommodate your schedule; or develop a class that you could teach through that institution or (what at least in our area is called) Community Education, for children or adults.

(I guess these aren't so much about advancing the science as promoting it to the lay public, sorry.)
posted by lakeroon at 11:19 AM on October 6, 2009

You'll have infinitely more spare time when you're dead. Why not donate your organs if viable and your cadaver if not?
posted by Neiltupper at 2:37 PM on October 6, 2009

A keyword to look for opportunities like Galaxy Zoo and bird counts is citizen science.

Scientific American's Science Talk podcast (9/28/2009) had a good example of this when covering the NYC Cricket Crawl (starts 15 min in).

Galaxy Zoo was just covered in the Guardian's Science Weekly podcast (10/5/2009).
posted by clerestory at 12:09 AM on October 7, 2009

">garage biology
posted by vegetable100% at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2009

i meant
garage biology
posted by vegetable100% at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2009

« Older The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant...   |   What ever happened to Mike Jackson's nose? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.