We often receive questions from students asking about what they should study to become a UFO researcher, or from young adults who wonder about becoming involved in the UFO field. We’ve written a document to answer such questions and provide details and advice about contributing to the study of UFOs. One important point to keep in mind is that almost all work in UFO groups is unpaid—certainly true at CUFOS—or poorly compensated. People join groups and work on investigations and projects because of their intrinsic interest, not because it provides a career path.
Getting Involved in UFO Studies
People commonly ask for advice on how to become involved in the study of UFOs (often called “ufology”)—what subjects they should learn or know, and what special training is most appropriate to become involved with either UFO investigation or research. Further, students wonder whether there is any full-time employment available with major UFO organizations to study the UFO phenomenon.
The answers to these questions are straightforward, but first we want to provide some necessary background to help you understand the current situation in the field. The study of the UFO phenomenon has suffered over the years from a lack of funding from either government agencies or private foundations. As a consequence, all UFO organizations have relied almost exclusively on contributions from the public for their support, some on membership fees, with a handful of projects supported by grants from very large donors.
Regrettably, while public donations are most welcome, they usually have been barely adequate to maintain an office and pay for some clerical help, but—with rare exceptions—not enough to pay full-time investigators. And almost no grant money is currently available for scientists and other professionals to conduct research projects.
The basic reason why no adequate funding is available is that, historically, only a minority of professional scientists and academics have considered UFOs a legitimate topic for scientific study. Most are convinced that UFO reports are only a miscellany of mistaken observations of prosaic objects or phenomena, and all the controversy that surrounds them is based on nothing but a popular myth. There currently are no academic programs in ufology at traditionally accredited institutions of higher learning, although individual courses in aspects of the field are appearing. At bottom, the pervasive problem has been the failure of important opinion makers and scientific and funding organizations to recognize that the skeptical position on UFOs is not well founded; in fact, it is strongly contradicted by a large body of well-established facts.
As a consequence, all those who study UFOs seriously do so as an avocation—an unpaid activity we pursue as professionally as possible, given the lack of resources. UFO investigators come from all walks of life, and people with a wide variety of backgrounds have made important contributions. However, their UFO work did not advance their careers, especially for those academics who have become involved. Others in the field—policemen, teachers, businessmen, engineers, librarians, writers, and computer specialists—generally are less troubled by conflicts between their UFO work and their jobs.
Of course, the lack of funding could change at any time, but it has been true for decades. Despite developments since the December 2017 revelations of secret governmental UFO studies programs, which have led to passage of historic UFO provisions in the US FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the future remains uncertain. It’s best you plan to do your UFO work as an avocation or volunteer.
UFOs as an Avocation
If you are ready to get involved on a volunteer level in the field, what competencies should help? Experience tells us that analysis of UFO reports is a strongly cross-disciplinary endeavor. The study of the UFO phenomenon can be broadly grouped into two categories:
- Investigation of UFO sightings themselves in the field
- Study of the reports and/or witnesses
Within these categories are numerous separate tasks. The field investigation of sightings involves many skills. Witnesses need to be interviewed in a manner providing the most reliable sighting details. Physical trace samples may be taken using careful protocols, with measurements and photographs of the site. Government agencies will be contacted to obtain supplementary information (weather data, radar records), and websites will be consulted as well for a variety of relevant information. Reports must be carefully written to compile an accurate database for future use.
From the standpoint of field investigation work and report writing, backgrounds in interviewing, detective or police work, journalism, some social sciences, and similar disciplines are valuable. However, many excellent field investigators have had other training. It is quite possible to learn to be a good field investigator, and there are handbooks that provide guidance.
The study of the data from UFO reports includes many possible areas of evidence. UFOs are sometimes tracked on radar, so that electronics and other technologies related to those fields are important. Electromagnetic (EM) effects or gravitational disturbances frequently have been associated with UFOs. In EM effects cases, knowledge of the affected vehicle or power system becomes important, along with principles of electromagnetism. If there are physical traces on the ground, or vegetation is affected, then knowledge of biology, soil properties, chemistry, and botany can be important. Photographs and videos of UFOs must be studied by those knowledgeable in that field.
Other researchers have attempted to find patterns in the UFO data, such as where and when UFOs appear, their common characteristics, and any correlations between these data. Here, a background in statistics, data analytics, databases, or intelligence analysis would be useful.
For those interested in the physics of the UFO phenomena, relevant knowledge can come from aeronautics, atmospheric physics, and optics, among other disciplines.
In most UFO cases, though, there is no physical evidence—just the witness reports. Consequently, witnesses have been the subject of several studies, as we try to see who is more likely to see a UFO, and whether certain people more commonly make specific types of reports. Here, social scientists have much to offer. Perceptual psychologists have, for example, studied the difficulties of observing something unusual in the sky or on the ground, and have placed limits on what can be perceived. A knowledge of historical methods is also a plus.
What all of this implies is that almost any area you decide to study can be applied somewhere to the study of UFOs. For this reason, we strongly urge those of you who are students to get degrees or training in areas that you find interesting and in which you would like to seek employment. Undoubtedly, you will need to make a living doing something besides studying UFOs.
You may find this advice rather unsatisfactory because it is not very specific. But actually, it should be encouraging that almost anything you learn or already know or can do could apply to UFO studies. This gives you great freedom to choose. And if there are specific areas of UFO study that you find intriguing, our advice should provide some guidance about where you should gain further education.
Students: As part of your schoolwork (especially in college), you can seek opportunities to do term papers, science projects, honors projects, and theses related to some aspect of UFOs. With a little imagination, the possibilities are boundless.
UFO Studies and Apprenticeship
To a great extent, it will be up to you to become expert in the UFO field, since there is no formal training in the subject. Whatever field of study or studies you may choose to pursue in formal education, there are many informal training and learning opportunities available. You should try to contact one of the major UFO organizations to see if you can become involved as a volunteer. (For students, we normally suggest waiting until college—if not later—to become a volunteer.) The organizations can put you in contact with someone in your area who is a member and/or investigator. You can begin to learn about the field from someone who is directly involved. You can possibly apprentice as an investigator, attend discussion groups, and help with other tasks.
Volunteering can lead to obtaining a personal mentor who can help guide you through the many pitfalls often encountered in ufology (rumors, gossip, unfounded speculation, poor science). You will want some advice on what to read and who is reliable. This is because there are no standards in the field of UFO studies; literally, anyone can declare him or herself a “ufologist,” although those of us who treat the field seriously only get involved with like-minded people. It’s critical to develop a rational, scientific approach to the study and not to prejudge any case, but rather to execute it according to the data and informed, logical deductions. Reasonable skepticism is an important asset at the outset of each investigation, and a conclusion of “unknown” does not give license for wild speculation.
In your free time outside work and school, or during vacation time, you can pursue personal studies of UFO sightings or human reactions to them. A good place to start is to examine the websites of UFO groups and prominent advocates, many of which contain links or articles on various aspects of the subject. You should try to read widely in the UFO subject, learning about its history as well as famous cases, government involvement with UFO investigation, earlier investigators and researchers, and, of course, what we do know about the UFO phenomenon. Other valuable sources are the numerous UFO podcasts and interviews, though here some advice from those in the field will help you identify trusted venues.
The reading list below is a place to begin. If you have additional questions, please send us a note using the CUFOS contact form. We wish you all the best in getting involved in this most intriguing field.
We have chosen the best books that provide an overview of the UFO phenomenon or information on case investigation, rather than books on specific topics, such as abduction cases or the Roswell incident. Some are out of print but used copies may well be available. Libraries don’t often carry a wide selection of older UFO books, but you should check. For additional reading material, you can check the recommended books on the CUFOS website.
Clark, Jerome. The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. Detroit, Mich.: Visible Ink, 1998.
Clark, Jerome. The UFO Encyclopedia. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 3rd ed., 2021.
Fowler, Raymond E. Casebook of a UFO Investigator. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981.
Hall, Richard H. The UFO Evidence, Volume II: A Thirty-Year Report. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001.
Hall, Richard H. Uninvited Guests. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Aurora, 1988.
Hendry, Allan. The UFO Handbook. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.
Hill, Paul R. Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 1995.
Hynek, J. Allen. The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1972.
Kean, Leslie. UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. New York: Harmony, 2010.
Randle, Kevin D. The UFO Casebook. New York: Warner, 1989.
Randle, Kevin D. Reflections of a UFO Investigator. San Antonio, Tex.: Anomalist Books, 2012.
Swords, Michael, ed. Grass Roots UFOs: Case Reports from the Center for UFO Studies. San Antonio, Tex.: Anomalist Books, 2005.