I’m happy to announce a guest post today! I reached out to Sarah from The Yachtless to ask about one of her favorite side hustles: research study participant.
I’m a huge fan of side hustles, having had no less than seven jobs last year. Research study participant is not one I’ve ever done though! Sarah is a newly minted PhD and is working her way out of debt. She just got a new job and is navigating the waters of the personal finance world, sans yacht. Read on for her tips on joining a research study!
About five years ago I happened to see a flyer on a bulletin board. Research Participants Needed, it said. Compensation Provided. On a whim, I tore off a strip with the contact info printed on it and sent off an email. “Hi,” I said, “I saw your flyer about a research study and I might be interested in participating. Could you send me some more information?”
And that was where it all began. I’ve lost track of the number of scientific research studies I’ve participated in since that first one, but it’s probably in the ballpark of 15 or 20. I’ve also lost track of the total amount of money I’ve made by participating in these studies, but the lowest-paying one earned me $7 and the highest-paying earned me about $700.
I realize that the term “human subjects research” might be a little unnerving. You might be picturing someone being injected with a mystery substance, or hooked up to wires, having their brain stimulated. But while research studies involving injections and brain stimulation do exist, the majority of studies out there are non- invasive.
Just to give a few examples, I’ve participated in a study on the link between genetics and anxiety, a study on the link between musical training and being able to differentiate between various sounds, a study on brain activity during working memory tasks, and a study on the psychological effects of the Boston Marathon bombings on community members.
I could talk all day about why I participate in human subjects research and what I’ve gotten out of it, but here are the three main points:
1. You can make money. The amount will vary widely from study to study, but you’ll always know up front how much it will be, so you can decide if it’s worth it to you or not. And at least in the U.S., the money you receive is not taxed as long as it doesn’t exceed $600 in a calendar year.
2. Human subjects research is really important. Without this type of research, we wouldn’t have FDA-approved drugs, and we wouldn’t know about psychological phenomena like negativity bias, confirmation bias, and stereotype threat. By participating in a research study, you’re helping scientists solve problems, answer questions, and move society forward.
3. I always learn something when I participate in a study. Always. There is a ton of incredibly interesting research out there, often on topics I’d never heard of or considered.
It’s important to know that ALL studies, regardless of how involved they are or aren’t, must go through a strict approval process conducted by an ethical review board whose job it is to make sure that participants’ rights, safety, and welfare are protected. In addition to having participated in a lot of research studies, I also spent several years managing research studies as a PhD student, and I can assure you that getting approval from the ethical review board is no small task.
So what types of human subjects research are there? Some of the most common types, in order of least involved to most involved, are:
– Computerized behavioral studies that can be done remotely, in which you’ll be asked to answer questions about yourself and/or complete simple tasks.
– In-person behavioral studies. In these studies you may be asked to read words or sentences, look at pictures, think about scenarios, listen to sounds, or watch videos, and respond to these stimuli by pressing buttons on a keyboard or circling responses on a sheet of paper.
– Eye-tracking studies. Much the same as regular behavioral studies, except that a sensor is tracking where on the computer screen you are looking.
– EEG studies. Similar to regular behavioral studies, except you are wearing a cap that detects electrical impulses in your brain as you respond and react.
– fMRI studies. You will probably still be asked to look at or listen to stimuli, but you’ll be lying down in an MRI scanner as you do so, and the researcher is tracking which parts of your brain are activating as you work on certain tasks. fMRI is totally safe for many people, but not for everyone—the researcher will spend a ton of time screening you beforehand to make sure you’re safe to be scanned.
– Sleep studies. These studies get their own category because they almost always require you to stay overnight in a lab or hospital room for at least one night, and sometimes even for a week or more. They also typically pay a LOT—sometimes thousands of dollars if you stay in the hospital for multiple nights.
Participating in human subjects research is not for everyone. You will almost certainly be asked for some amount of personal information when participating in a study, and although researchers are required to do their very best to keep this information confidential, it’s your decision whether or not you are comfortable with sharing the information in the first place. Also, before you can participate in a study, you’ll have to pass an eligibility screening. No one is eligible for every study—your eligibility will depend on factors like your age, gender, and health history. Some people are eligible for a lot of studies and others are eligible for very few.
If you’re interested, here are some tips on getting started!
– Believe it or not, tons of legit studies advertise for participants on Craigslist. They typically post in the “volunteers” section because technically you are viewed as a volunteer, even if you’re getting paid. Click on “volunteers” and type in keywords like “study” or “research”.
– It’s easier to participate in more studies if you live in a city where there is at least one university or hospital, because these are the types of institutions that run studies. However, online studies do exist as well.
– If there’s a university near you, you can also call specific departments to ask if they have any studies available. Psychology departments often have studies available, as do Communication Disorders departments (sometimes known as Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences).
– There are also lots of studies looking for child participants! If your child is interested in something like this, it could be a good opportunity for them to learn a little about science. You could give them the money they receive directly, or put it in their college fund.
Participating in research is one of the most fun and interesting ways I’ve made extra money over the years. This is just a brief overview – if you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments!
Finally, if you are interested in comprehensive listing of ways to make extra money, consider checking out this thread over at the saving advice forums, its a bit dated but very complete.