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Sharpen your maths skills with citizen science

Citizen Science Projects

Looking for a fun way to learn and use maths? Read on…

A passion for maths doesn’t always come from the classroom. If you’re a big thinker and doer, then citizen science projects are perfect for flexing your number skills while doing good and helping to answer important questions.

One really cool recent example comes from a NSW student named Emma Glenfield. Determined to figure out why and who magpies swoop after watching one target all the dads at her school, Emma turned this into a maths project with a little help from her teacher and mum. She originally surveyed people at school and in the larger community about their age, height, weight and hairstyles, and if they had ever been swooped by a magpie. Then the survey went online and she ended up with a whopping 30,000 responses! All the data Emma collected pointed to the fact that men with less hair get swooped the more often, and now a professor from Griffith University is combing through her work to see what else she may have discovered.

Get your maths on

All of this stemmed from a simple question Emma had, but it relied on maths and data to tell the whole story. Is there a burning question you’d like answered? Take matters into your own hands and start collecting your own data – create paper surveys as well as online versions (SurveyMonkey is great for this!) then finds ways to visualise it. Emma didn’t know how you to use Excel, so instead made bar graphs with LEGO. You could also use Canva, or present your findings in a YouTube video and share it with the world.

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Want to warm up by helping someone else with their citizen science project first? There are heaps to get involved with. Why not try:

  1. Koala Tracker – help map the location, points of impact and cause of death and injury of the koala, nationwide. This shows experts where koalas really are and can save populations from development projects.
  2. FrogID – this app allows users to record frog calls that experts then listen to and identify. The aim of the project is to gather data to make conservation decisions for Australia’s frogs and to understand the impact a changing environment has on them.
  3. ClimateWatch – monitor and record species data by sussing out predetermined trails in botanical gardens across Australia. The goal here is to understand how changes in temperature and rainfall are affecting the seasonal behaviour of native plants and animals.

While you’re doing this, take note of the kinds of data they are trying to collect and how they go about this. This could spark an idea for your own citizen science project or interesting and/or efficient ways to get your own data.

How this helps your future STEM career

Associate Professor Kate Helmstedt

Training your brain to think like a citizen scientist who appreciates the power of maths (and realises how useful it is to absolutely everything!) will lay a good foundation for your future STEM career.

Associate Professor Kate Helmstedt from the School of Mathematical Sciences at QUT says, “People are always surprised to learn that maths is everywhere around us all the time. Everywhere that maths is, there’s maths jobs. Modern mathematicians often train in maths as well as another field, so they can have careers using maths tools and to solve big applied problems. They might be biologists, lawyers, or consultants who use maths, or they might be mathematicians tackling questions in those fields. Maths jobs are always changing and adapting to what society needs, so it’s always an open and exciting job.”

Mixing maths with a passion, hobby or interest? We call this maths + X! Here are some examples of how you can combine maths with what you love for an exciting career:

Meet three maths professionals who are using their skills to make the world a better place. Subscribe to the Careers with STEM YouTube channel!

And FYI, Australia’s top 10 most in-demand jobs ALL use maths, so if you want to prep for the future you’ll need a good handle on the areas of maths relevant to your uni or VET course and dream career. We recommend looking at course prerequisites and/or assumed knowledge (you can find these on uni and VET provider websites) and go from there.

More maths? (Yes, please)

For more inspo, make sure you flick through our latest Careers with STEM: Maths + Data magazine:

Find more back issues of Careers with STEM magazine here

You should also check out our maths role models too see what maths pathways you can take, and find all our latest maths careers stories on our Careers with Maths hub.

Sign up to the Careers with STEM e-newsletter for all the latest on STEM qualifications and jobs sent straight to your inbox.

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