Newswise — COVID-related restrictions may have disrupted many things in our lives, but the virtual world of science has no such limitations. Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey’s Community Cancer Action Board and the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement together launched a Citizen Scientist Program, a unique opportunity that enables scientists and members of the public to unite towards a common goal— to make advancements in cancer research. 

Pacing through seven weeks of video modules on a virtually-hosted platform, community members without scientific backgrounds learn how they can contribute to the cancer research process and ensure that basic laboratory, clinical and population research conducted by Rutgers Cancer Institute is reflective of the needs of the communities it serves. Program topics include ethics, the research process, research designs, cultural competency, and big data. 

Upon completion of the course, citizen scientists serve as active members of the Rutgers Cancer Institute scientific review board, review proposals for cancer health equity research, are members of research advisory committees and participate in Rutgers Cancer Institute catchment area research meetings and committees. 

 “The COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine development has brought to light how important it is for our communities to understand and trust medical research,” notes Rita Musanti, PhD, APN-BC, assistant director for Community Outreach and Engagement at Rutgers Cancer Institute. “Citizen scientists bridge the gap between medical research and communities, helping researchers focus on community-identified needs while helping other community members make informed decisions about participating in medical research and in the care that they choose for their families.”