Open-access Research from 2017: Citizen Science

It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).

Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.

To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia, Philip Roetman, and James Ward. “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research.” Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 5, no. 3 (2017): 9-20.

But what exactly is “citizen science”?

Citizen science is, “public participation in organised research efforts” (Louv, Fitzpatrick, Dickinson and Bonney, 2012). In its earliest form, think of keen hobbyists studying plants, animals and the stars – their carefully collected observations contributed much to our knowledge of the natural world, (even without being trained scientists). Nowadays, in the era of BIG data, not only are scientists focussing on large global issues and complex systems, but we are collecting so much data that much of it is never even looked at. This is where the public can help. Citizens who are interested in the topic or method under research can contribute their time and attention. Their contribution can range from basic data collection, to assisting in analysis, and all the way through to being part of designing, conducting, analysing and communicating the research (Catlin-Groves, 2012; Cooper, Dickinson, Phillips & Bonney, 2007).

Here are some links to examples of very cool citizen science projects happening around the globe.

They range from large-scale global (or even space) projects, to medium-scale projects based on particular species or landscapes, and to quite small local projects:

  • “Age Guess” an online project researching the difference between perceived age (how old you look) and chronological age (how old you actually are).
  • “FrogWatch” a Canadian study monitoring frogs and toads to track population trends and climate change.
  • “Cat Tracker” is a South Australian study where cat owners use a small GPS device to track the movements of their pet cats (hint: they travel a lot further than you think!)
  • “CosmoQuest” is another online project to help NASA scientists make maps of our solar system.
  • “Project BudBurst” an American study which asks people to get outside and monitor plants as the seasons change.
  • And of course  “The Edible Gardens Project” investigating the productivity and social value of urban food gardens in South Australia.

If you’re in Australia and keen to learn more about citizen science, check out the Australia Citizen Science Association And if you’re in South Australia, have a look at the Discovery Circle – a citizen science initiative of the University of South Australia:

In citizen science it’s fundamental to practice ‘giving back’.

As acknowledgement and thanks for the public’s contribution it’s important to give them something in return (Roetman, 2013). This may be a report of the analysis or results, a copy of the data for their own use, or some public acknowledgement of their help. By publishing the results of the research as open-access articles, everyone can access, read and learn more about the science that’s important to all of us.

Happy Reading!
– Georgia


Catlin-Groves, Christina. “The Citizen Science Landscape: From Volunteers to Citizen Sensors and Beyond.” International Journal of Zoology 2012 (2012).

Cooper, Caren, Janis Dickinson, Tina Phillips, and Rick Bonney. “Citizen Science as a Tool for Conservation in Residential Ecosystems.” Ecology and Society 12, no. 2 (2007): 11.

Louv, Richard, John Fitzpatrick, Janis Dickinson, and Rick Bonney. Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research.  New York, USA: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Pollard, Georgia, Philip Roetman, and James Ward. “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research.” Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 5, no. 3 (2017): 9-20.

Roetman, Philip. “The ‘Citizen’ in Citizen Science: The Research, Education and Engagement of a Program Based on Local Wildlife Species in South Australia.” University of South Australia, 2013.



A Guest Lecture on Urban Agriculture

Last week I gave my first ever guest lecture for a UniSA course called “Environment: A Human Perspective”. There were about 50-60 first year students present and my nerves came on strong at the beginning. But I made it through, and listening back I think I managed to get my passion and enthusiasm for urban agriculture across to the students –  I even made them laugh couple of times!… intentionally, of course.

Part #1 of the lecture covered the basics of urban agriculture (UA), some of its differences around the world and how common it is in South Australia.

In Part #2 (which is still being edited) I describe how there is more to UA than simply the productive side (how much food people can grow) – there is also a strong social value side. In the middle there’s some interaction where I ask the students what it takes to grow food from start to finish, and how this in turn influences your research design.

I mention both my honours research on the social reaction of people to aquaponics, in addition to how some of the local councils react to the idea of aquaponics. And finished up with a little on my PhD research on the productive capacity and social value of UA via the Edible Gardens Project.

I know there are a couple a little rough moments in here. But I would still love to get any feedback you may have.

Georgia the Urban Ag. Scientist

Why online presence is important for all scientists: The League of Remarkable Women in Science, interview Dr Rachael Dunlop

What a brilliant interview with Dr Rachael Dunlop – I love the idea of starting by learning to communicate effectively and THEN getting into science. Possible a harder way of doing things but she has made it a success.

Recently I spoke with my father Jeremy Pollard about the growing need for scientists to have an online presence. Without being able to communicate your research effectively to people – how will they understand the value? And without examples of your ability to communicate effectively and present in a concise, clear and interesting way, how will anyone – a company, a workshop, or even a conference committee, know you’re any good?

So what can you do? Practice presenting all the time, in front or your mirror, your friends, your family. And when you do present professionally – ask someone to record it. Even with an iphone (just remember to keep it framed on you and keep it STILL). Or if your presentation is filmed by whoever is running the event, ask for a copy. Watch them. Learn from them and upload the good ones to your online profile e.g. LinkedIn.

Don’t have an online professional profile? Then this might be the time to start – LinkedIn is a great simple way to showcase your experience, your skills, even your best work. The best part is that when you connect with those you know on LinkedIn, you can get them to vouch for your skills AND even write recommendations of you. Keep it concise, honest and up-to-date.

Feature Communicator: Alan Alda

This March Alan Alda was interviewed by Will Grant and Rob Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Alan is not a scientist, instead he is simply fascinated by talking to, and questioning all kinds of scientists.

Follow this link to listen to or read the whole interview transcript:

During this interview Alan talks about the power of curiosity – the drive to ask and find out “why?”, and yet he insists that curiosity combined with ignorance is even stronger!

During his life Alan has had the opportunity to interview many, many scientists. Some of these he did without a list of questions, but more as an informal curious conversation. He said that doing so brought out much more of the individual scientist’s personality than usually shown. And he spoke of wishing that scientists could get into that conversational tone all by themselves, without an interviewer to help them.

Alan is a vocal advocator for teaching communication skills to science students as a core part of their university education.

Alan also spoke of the need to not dumb down the science being communicated but to instead to focus on clarity and vividness. He defined being vivid as, “to show how it affects our daily lives, what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”

Some scientists may ask what good communicating their research to the public actually does for them. According to Alan, the scientists who undertook training at the Centre for Communicating Science found that working to refine their research message resulted in  them becoming much more focussed and clear about what they were doing and why.

This idea that re-working, re-explaining and re-focusing on the purpose and value of your science can actually lead to better science, is amazing. By attempting to communicate your message to a variety of people, journalists, community groups or organisations you are constantly re-afirming and checking how you describe and explain your work. This sort of reflection can be a powerful process for clearer, more vivid science.

I recently completed my Confirmation of Candidature presentation.

Proposal presentation front page SMALLProposal presentation 1

This is a presentation of your research proposal to a panel of academic markers (and hopefully some other interested people) to see whether they also think that your idea is realistic, rigorous and interesting. If all your markers pass you, you become an official PhD student – safe for the rest of your 3.5 years of research.

I was feeling both nervous and confident. Nervous because I was presenting to a panel of academic markers who would judge whether my research proposal was good enough to continue. I was also nervous as I wanted this presentation to contribute to my reputation as someone who is not only good at presenting, but also downright enjoys it. Due to this I had invited more people than strictly necessary to make a bit of a fun event about it.

I was confident for a few reasons. Firstly because I was presenting on a topic I knew – my own research. I also made sure that I knew all the requirements of the presentation: the time limit, and length of question time, all the aspects I had to cover (background, aim and objectives, methods and analysis).

I had practised a lot. I knew my slides, all the transitions and animations. I had my speech on palm cards even though I didn’t think I would need them. I had practised with the slide clicker and had presented twice to my supervisors to get their opinions and advice. You can practise in front of anyone, friends, family or peers.

I also went to an effort to make the experience a comfortable one. I got to the room first and set up my slideshow, turned on only some lights so the slides could be seen, and put on some soft friendly music. This way, when people starting coming in they didn’t stand around awkwardly. Instead they relaxed and chatted to others there until it was time to begin.

So how did it go? Really really well. I kept to time, didn’t need my palm cards and was marked highly. I get to continue as an official PhD student of UniSA and study the topic of my own choosing: urban agriculture.