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Living through 2020 and what we’ve survived of 2021 so far has prompted many people to reflect on their lives, goals, and priorities. If you’re among them, and realized that you’d like to (eventually) see more of the world and start volunteering, there’s a way to do both at the same time: Volunteer for a scientific research expedition.

But unless you happen to be friends with a scientist who conducts field research and happens to be looking for extra pairs of hands, you may not know where to start. A recent article in National Geographic by Kristen Pope features the experiences of people who volunteered to collect data and/or specimens for field research projects in a variety of destinations. It also sheds some light on how to find a project looking for volunteer citizen scientists. Here’s what to know.

How to find a field research project looking for volunteers

The first thing you need to do is identify a research project that interests you, and is in need of volunteers. The easiest way to do this is to go through a nonprofit organization that matches volunteers with research projects where they’re needed.

The one featured in the National Geographic article is called Adventure Scientists, and it partners with agencies like the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management, to supply citizen scientists for various research projects.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities include:

What to know about volunteering for a research expedition

There are a few other things to keep in mind. First, don’t forget that this is volunteer work—so don’t expect to be paid for your labor or have any of your travel expenses covered. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a project that offers some kind of stipend, but that’s the rare exception, not the rule.

What you’re more likely to find, however, are for-profit voluntourism companies that charge a range of fees for connecting you with a volunteer opportunity abroad. These aren’t necessarily research trips (or something you’d want to do), but they may come up during your search.

And even though the opportunity is unpaid, you’ll still need to go through an application and/or screening process in most situations to ensure that your timing and skillset are a match for the project. Then, if selected, you’ll receive some type of training to learn how to collect and submit the data needed for a particular project.

It won’t be your typical travel experience, but will provide an opportunity to explore a new place in an unusual way.



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