Q&A with Citizen Science Manager Lauren Marino Perez

Lauren Marino Perez is a longtime employee at the San Diego Natural History Museum. She began her tenure at The Nat as a visitor services associate in 2005 then ventured into the Education Department serving as education collections manager for many years. In her current role as citizen science manager, which is also a part of the Education Department, Lauren is responsible for elevating the Museum’s profile in the participatory science realm by making science accessible and approachable to the public.

Q: What do you love the most about your job?

A: Through my work at The Nat, I have the pleasure of interacting with amazing people every day. Some are my coworkers, but many are not. They share an intimate love and understanding of the natural world. Often, this passion is so overwhelming, they cannot help but share it and that is why they end up here. Each person I meet is formally addressed by various titles (educators, exhibit designers, visitor service associates, volunteers, museum guests, iNaturalist contributors, etc.), but to me they are all citizen scientists, even if they don’t realize it.

Q: What does “citizen science” mean?

A: The term citizen scientist can be controversial—some feel it has political implications. I use the term in the same manner as The Nat, to refer to citizens of our world who contribute to the exploration and creation of scientific knowledge. Even with this broad definition in mind, many I talk to feel uncomfortable using the term to describe themselves; however, it is not the citizen part they take issue with---it’s the scientist portion of the title.

The word scientist alone carries so many trappings: expert, unquestionable, omniscient. Scientists know everything about everything, right? Not at all. The beauty of science is the unknown. It’s the reason the discipline of science exists. Not knowing leads to questions and questions are the first step in the scientific process. Questions carry the promise of uncovering something new. If not new to the world, then at least new to you. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of scientist is “a person learned in science and especially natural science: a scientific investigator.” An advanced degree in a certain field or formal training is unnecessary to make observations in nature. It seems the only prerequisite is to be interested in the natural world around you.

Q: Can you explain the historical context of citizen science at The Nat?

A: Sure. The San Diego Society of Natural History was founded by citizen scientists who carried with them a love of the natural world but received no formal training on how to study it. In 1874, these amateur naturalists began the institution that would later become the San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat). They observed the world around them, asked questions, and set out to find answers through exploration and documentation. Today, our exhibitions, films, programs, research, and publications aim to fuel curiosity in the natural world. We participate in events like the City Nature Challenge, which encourage individuals to opt outside and explore the vast biodiversity we have in San Diego County. 

Q: Do you consider yourself a citizen scientist?

A: Working at The Nat has brought me to the realization that I am indeed a citizen scientist.  I didn’t become one while working here, though--I’ve always been one. Today, I freely call anyone who stops to notice the world around them and ask questions a scientist, no formal training or advanced degrees required. I bet many of you are citizen scientists without even realizing it.

Q: You mentioned the City Nature Challenge event. Can you share more information on when and where that will take place?

A: We encourage all San Diego residents to share their observations with us during the City Nature Challenge. San Diego County is competing with more than 60 areas around the world to see who can document the most nature, and we want to show the world we have the most nature loving and environmentally conscious residents. You can help us win by taking photos of wild plants and animals and posting them to iNaturalist during the challenge, which is taking place Friday, April 27 through Monday, April 30.


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