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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Become a guinea pig

For years I worked in medical research; I was a researcher, and ran clinical trials where a device (or a drug) is tested on people.  I know the risks, but also the benefits of being a research subject.  And yes, I DO suggest you become one.  Here is why.

When researchers need to test a theory on human subjects, they must submit a detailed protocol of what is entailed, what the risks are and how these risks are minimized, to an ethics committee whose sole task is to ensure the research is done ethically when it involves people (a different committee is for animals); if the research is for a new medical product or treatment, this has to be approved as well by Health Canada (the Canadian equivalent of the US FDA).  Therefore, there is no deception (no lying of what will be done and the risks), the risks are minimized, the research has some value for further use, and similar tests have been done before on people and have shown to be relatively safe.  So the risks to you are pretty small.

As well, these research projects are interesting.  These are not things you will hear about in a magazine; no, these are the forefront of research, projects that have not been published before, not even at conferences yet.  So you are part of the advances of science.  You and the researcher will share knowledge nobody else will for a while – as a scientist, it is a buzz better than any alcohol can bring.

Finally, you will make some money.  To compensate you for your time and effort (driving there, using up a couple of hours of your time, etc.), you will receive (most likely) money, as a thank you.  The amount has to be disclosed ahead of time, and if you choose to not complete the study, you still receive an amount proportional to the fraction of the study you have completed. 

So is this the way to fund your studies? No – there just isn’t enough studies to do this full time (and you would not qualify for many of them – cancer drugs are tested on cancer patients who may benefit from them).  However, it is a fun and educational way to learn a few bucks for a dinner out or a gourmet coffee.  You sit with a psychology graduate student, answer a questionnaire and perform a few tests, and leave with $15 or even $20 in your pocket.  The best part is, you’ll be able to schedule your appointment to when is best suitable for you (between two classes? on the weekend?); the researchers are happy to accommodate the subjects.

Now, you may ask, where do I find out about these great entertaining ways to spend time and make money? Try the campus newspaper and different departments that need subjects most often: physiology, biology, psychology, and sociology.  These departments often have paper posters on bulletin boards in the main entrance to their buildings, or on the website of their department. 

Now, go out and help research advance!

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