If you are a layperson, there are still opportunities for you to contribute to scientific progress. Below are some links to interesting research projects where amateur scientists can contribute.
The 4*P Coma Morphology Campaign is asking for amateur and professional images of comet 45P/HMP and comet 41P/TGK.
You can do comet hunting with the SOHO mission- instructions are found here.
Also for amateur astronomers, the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). By timing and observing lunar and asteroid occultations, scientists hope to discover double stars and understand the lunar terrain better, among other benefits.
This project also caught my eye, as the last time I went down to a local park for some stargazing, I was assaulted with a cacophony of frogs.
These are just a few projects, but there are many more available here.