Blog Post

Interview with Jennifer Shirk: Director of Field Development for CSA

In our ongoing series of blog posts about people who are working in the field of citizen science, we interview Jennifer Shirk, one of the Citizen Science Association’s few part-time employees.
Jennifer is based at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and has been part of field-building activities since the 2007 Citizen Science Toolkit Conference that launched the website. But here she tells us how she really got started in citizen science, and some of the next big steps she sees for the field.
CSA: Jennifer, you’ve been involved with citizen science for many years. How did you first get involved with citizen science?
Jennifer: I was fortunate enough when I was in high school student to get an Earthwatch scholarship. I spent ten days monitoring sea turtles in Yucatan, Mexico, which was beautiful and transformative in so many ways. But one of the things that really struck me was that they sent us peer-reviewed papers in our orientation packet. I got hooked by the idea that science could be accessible to everyone.
CSA: You’ve been a key part of the day to day tasks of getting the Citizen Science Association up and running. Recently your title was changed from Communication Coordinator to Director of Field Development. What does this new role look like for you?
Jennifer: Recently, it’s looked like a lot of proposal writing! I’ve surprised myself by geeking out over drafting budgets. But this is also a part-time position, which can look like a lot of balls in the air.
CSA: What does your new role mean to our members?
Jennifer: One idea I’m excited about, and that we’re currently seeking funding for, is to organize sessions to co-design CSA resources. We want to make sure that the platforms and services we make available are relevant to and usable by members from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, and who have different needs and interests related to supporting their work.
CSA: What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about the Citizen Science Association? Why?
Jennifer: I’m a “big tent” person when it comes to citizen science. There are many traditions of public participation in research, and it’s so valuable to be able to build on what has been learned in different contexts. I really believe that the CSA can help facilitate those connections, and that together we can advance understandings about and respect for the practice.
CSA: Your role with the Citizen Science Association puts you in direct contact with all of our Working Groups. How are these groups facilitating the growth of the Association?
Jennifer: These groups are helping to identify and set priorities around key issues for the field, and are working in different ways to advance those issues. And as they get started, they’re blogging about their work: for example, you can read a series by the Education team, and see what the new Data and Metadata group is tackling.
CSA: Those who know you well know that you dedicate a lot of your time to citizen science. Tell us something fun about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not thinking about citizen science?
Jennifer: When I can, I like to go backpacking. I met my husband while hiking the Appalachian Trail – so I know that all kinds of good can happen from getting outside! When I can’t go backpacking, I love riding trains.

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