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Citizen scientist program inviting research labs to participate

Research labs at the Beckman Institute have the opportunity to work with a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) on research projects as part of the Citizen Scientist Program. Interest in participation in the program must be submitted by December 13.

Published on Dec. 3, 2013

The Citizen Scientist Program, a groundbreaking collaborative endeavor of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), is inviting research labs to participate in the Citizen Scientist Program in the 2014 spring semester. 

The initiative, which began in January 2011, pairs OLLI members with Beckman Institute, Institute for Genomic Biology, and Neuroscience Program faculty in laboratories on the Illinois campus. The central idea is that the older adult members of OLLI, who have a wealth of professional and life experience, serve as research assistants, rather than subjects, in research labs and on individual research projects. 
The experiences of both the Citizen Scientists and lab members are mutually beneficial. The Citizen Scientists learn how science works in practice and about the important research being conducted on the Illinois campus, and the host lab receives assistance from the Citizen Scientists in conducting research.
OLLI has more than 1,000 members from diverse backgrounds and they can contribute to a wide variety of labs: in the past, those with experience in health-related professions such as nursing have managed medical data, retired bankers and teachers have helped to administer tests and conduct interviews, a volunteer with an interest in gardening has contributed to plant and environmental research, and another has been conducting research in molecular biology based on his professional experience as a biochemist.

If you would like to participate in the Citizen Scientist Program in the coming semester, please send an email to OLLI Director Christine Catanzarite at with the following information by December 13:

  • A short summary of your research project, described for a general audience

  • Your plan for the OLLI volunteer (this does not have to be elaborate, but must be a specific job description; the OLLI volunteers are selected carefully based on their specific interest in your lab and also on their skill sets)

  • The number of hours that you would expect the OLLI volunteer to spend on the project (typically, individuals work 3-5 hours per week on a voluntary basis, but the actual work schedule is determined based on the requirements of the lab/research project and the availability of the OLLI member)

  • The name and email address of a person in your lab—graduate student, postdoc, or professional staff member—who the OLLI volunteer will be working with (this is to ensure that the OLLI scientist has assistance and a primary contact person within the lab; it also helps to promote the benefits of intergenerational learning); or, if this is an individual research project, your own contact information

The OLLI Scientist program is coordinated by an OLLI Graduate Fellow, Claire Scavuzzo (, who will collect the information about interested researchers as well as those OLLI members who are interested in participating. A matching process will follow, in which you will be given the opportunity to meet with the OLLI member before accepting them. The meeting process is also intended to give the OLLI member an overview of your lab and the meaningful contributions they can make there. The OLLI Fellow also meets regularly with the Citizen Scientists as a group to help them integrate well into their labs. Topics covered include basic information on research laboratories and lab safety.