Feeling down or disconnected?

I have a solution for you…volunteer!

Not just any volunteer, become a citizen scientist at the Zooniverse.

I am sure that you have been exposed to many opportunities to volunteer. Local schools, religious institutions, community groups, children’s groups, and nonprofit organizations often ask for help. There are countless places that would love to have your time and talents.

It can get overwhelming. Trying to juggle your schedule and abating guilt, it can be quite a balance. Plus, for those introverts or shy folks out there, doesn’t it seem that all opportunities seem to surround highly social functions or working with large groups of people. Ugh.

I have built some experience around volunteering for various organizations even helping to design a volunteer program. So I have learned some things along the road. I am here to help you. Let us start with the basics of volunteering.


The benefits of volunteering

Well, there are 2 major types of benefits. Those for yourself and those for others or the community at large.

First off, let us look at volunteering from a purely selfish standpoint. Research has shown there are many benefits to the volunteers themselves. Amazing, huh? Here are just a few to get your juices flowing. Volunteering can…

  • lead to greater life satisfaction
  • lower rates of depression
  • prevent poor health in the future and make you live longer
  • build your skills and resume
  • create new friendships
  • be fun

Obviously, in addition to the volunteer’s benefits, the whole reason for volunteering is the benefits to others:

  • Solve problems for those needing help
  • Strengthen communities
  • Improve the lives of others
  • Building connections and networking

These are noble things we can all aspire to, and you get benefits too! What is not to love? I have found that to make volunteering work best for you, you need to stop and think first. Ask yourself some questions:

  1. What do you like to do? (talk with people, sing, bake, paint, organize, …)
  2. What are your skills? (friendly, planning, good listener, bookkeeping, communicating, …)
  3. What type of environments do you like to be in? (libraries, outdoors, gyms, schools, online…)
  4. What is important and meaningful to you? (animals, domestic violence, education, children, …)
  5. How much time do you have available? When are you available? (evenings, weekends, mornings, an hour a month…)
  6. What are you hoping is the end result of your efforts? (help someone grow, get new skills, make connections, …)

There should be some opportunity at the crossroads of all those questions. Personally, I know it can be a challenge to find it, but it is out there. Spend a little time thinking about the answers to those questions. It will make your volunteering efforts so much more rewarding. You will also be more likely to sustain your efforts.

If you have very little time, love science, and have access to the internet, I may have found an option for you. There is a group of scientists, software developers, and educators that have come together to create a unique opportunity to help you volunteer online.


What is the Citizen Science Alliance?

The Citizen Science Alliance is a collaboration intended to further science and the understanding of science. It does this by providing access to science projects online. They can be completed by the general layman at their own time and pace. By managing these projects, it allows a large dispersed group of people to volunteer online and turn them into citizen scientists. It sounds like some kind of superhero, don’t you think?

The home where they make their projects available is called the Zooniverse.

zooniverse: volunteer online as citizen scientist

What exactly is the Zooniverse?

The Zooniverse is the website that gives access to the science projects. The categories for research are Space, Climate, Humanities, Nature, Biology, and Physics. The projects will vary with time. At the time of this writing, the following projects were available:

  1. Space
    • How do galaxies form?
    • Explore the surface of the Moon
    • Study the explosions on the Sun
    • Find planets around stars
    • How do stars form?
    • Explore the Red Planet
    • Match growing black holes to their jets
    • Find the birthplace of planets
    • Sorting out Sunspots
    • Help us discover near-Earth asteroids
    • Help in the hunt for supernovae
  2. Climate
    • Model Earth’s climate using historic ship logs
    • Classify over 30 years of tropical cyclone data
  3. Humanities
    • Study the lives of ancient Greeks
    • Explore soldiers’ diaries from the First World War
    • Uncover the history of citizen science
  4. Nature
    • Help explore the ocean floor
    • You’re hot on the trail of bats!
    • Go wild in the Serengeti!
    • Take notes from nature
    • Dive into the planktonic world
    • California condors need your help
    • Discover floating forests
    • Spy on penguins for science
    • Monitor wildlife in urban Chicago
  5. Biology
    • Analyse real life cancer data
    • Track genetic mysteries
  6. Physics
    • Uncover the building blocks of the universe

What a wonderful range of projects, don’t you think? Something for everyone. You aren’t limited to one project either, you can participate in as many as you would like.


How does it work?

It is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Go to the Zoonivere.org.
  2. Sign up with an email and password.
  3. Pick a research project.

Easy, right? Once you pick a project, it will take you through a brief tutorial. It can literally take 2-3 minutes. Once you finish the tutorial you are ready to start to volunteer online.

Essentially, all projects have you looking at images and making a judgement. As with many science projects, there is a ton of data that needs to be combed through for information. Computers sometimes aren’t very good at discerning things from images. This is where citizen scientist comes in to save the day.


You will look at images and make a judgement. You will then take the appropriate steps to label or identify something. There is always the option to talk to someone and refer to the help guide/FAQ. I believe all projects have several citizen scientists review the same images to get a consistent reading and not miss something. So fear not, if you are wary of doing something incorrectly.

When I went on I tried out several different projects. Some were easier than others. Some were funner than others. I suppose it all depends on you and your brain. The fast nature of the process lends itself to hopping in and out of various projects. This allows you to try them on and see what you like best. I would say it is worth your time, even if you only have 10 minutes.

So the next time you have a spare 15 minutes and you have already read my blog, check it out. Can’t hurt and may even help.


Does this appeal to you?

Did you try it? What do you think? If you aren’t up for volunteering right now, but still need a pickup visit my article on yoga.

Do you volunteer? Would you want to volunteer online? Let me know in the comments and poll below.




Helpguide.org: Guide for improving your mental and emotional health

Corporation for National and Community Service: Federal agency promoting service