Get involved in your school's research opportunities!
Many universities have a multitude of research labs that look for students to act as subjects. Participation in studies is always completely voluntary and can range from simply filling out a questionnaire to spending time in an MRI scanner. Some studies don’t even require participants to visit a lab, instead of offering Amazon gift cards to go towards your mom’s birthday gift for filling out a survey in bed, at the gym, or on the way to class. More intensive studies require a bit of patience, such as the ones where a sticky, gel-filled EEG cap is placed on your head to measure your brain waves during a task. Long-term research often looks for a specific demographic of the population which you may belong to, from age and medical health to a particular hobby or skill set. Yet, no matter the type of study, there are so many benefits to participating in them as often as you can in college.
No need to delay the obvious: participating in research gets you money very quickly. It is one of the most time-effective, bang for your buck ways to bring in some extra income, especially if you don’t have a job.
Many studies pay well over minimum wage while lasting for a fraction of an hour. My personal record is walking out of a study in 7 minutes and 24 dollars richer - that’s a pretty fast conversion rate. I’ve also participated in some longer MRI scans that were mildly uncomfortable, but walking out with 80 to 100 dollars soon after made me quickly forget about the cramped space and loud noises. Plain and simple, volunteering for a study takes very little time and can reap huge rewards.
Advancing Scientific Knowledge
Now onto the more selfless reason to participate in research: you are doing a good deed by helping a scientist answer his or her burning question about the world. For researchers, data collection can be a tiresome and tedious commitment, so any willing student who volunteers is very much appreciated. If a study you participate in leads to a massive scientific breakthrough that helps countless others, consider it an added bonus.
Be careful, though, to only participate in studies that you feel absolutely comfortable with. Many, including myself, are perfectly fine with anonymous surveys but get a little nervous when dealing with more advanced methods that require some sort of pharmaceutical intervention or magnetic brain stimulation.
So much of our time on campus is surprisingly spent in only a few key locations, from our dorm rooms to the dining hall to class and back again. Seeking out research labs may lead you to some unfamiliar ground on campus, from the floors of the psychology building to the wings of the hospital. Seeking out studies can introduce you to all parts of campus that the tour guide doesn’t cover during the orientation week tour.
Along with the change of scenery, you never know what people you might meet in this previously uncharted territory. Interacting with medical professionals, graduate students, and other research subjects provides ample networking opportunities to find those with similar interests. Lastly, getting involved on campus in this way can shed light on the larger mission and core values of your university other than simply providing students with excellent courses and a degree upon graduation.
From Subject to Experimenter
Many college students list their own research experiences as among the most meaningful during their time in college. Participating in a few studies as a subject can introduce you to exciting research opportunities that you can get involved in from the other side of the equation. If you take part in an especially interesting study, be sure to remember the name of the researcher and look him or her up later.
The easiest way to find research opportunities is by looking at the subject pools for psychology and behavioral labs (or whatever discipline you’re interested in) and reaching out to the primary investigators stating your interest in their work. Sending the dreaded cold-email to professors is daunting, but fire off enough and you will eventually find a match. Being involved in research builds great collaborative and problem-solving skills, and can help you define what future career path you’d like to pursue.
In all, being a research subject leads to many perks both for yourself and others. Try one or two out for size and see if you like it -- I’m confident you will become a research regular soon after.
WRITTEN BY Ben Thier Duke University
Born and raised a New Yorker, Ben studies neuroscience and education at Duke University in North Carolina. He is currently the Learning Solutions Intern for Macmillan and also serves on the Student Co-Design Group for the Learning Science department. His hobbies include listening to podcasts 24/7, scuba diving, collecting Snapple caps, and trying to get his friends to watch Survivor with him on Wednesday nights.