Part-time Jobs for Grad Students: Human Guinea Pig

If you are like me a graduate student in need of extra funds (and really, who isn’t in need of extra funds?) then you have spent considerable amounts of energy trying to find ways to squeeze extra dimes out of your dollars. Fear not, broke graduate student and/or writer, I have some answers. My suggestions may not pay the bills, but they will supplement your book-buying budget.

In this series of I-don’t-know-how-many posts, I present to you suggestions on how to make money the grad student way. 

On Wednesday, I volunteered to be part of a cognitive psychology experiment that (I assume) tests the relationship between memory and brain waves.
After a brief introduction wherein I failed to answer half of the test questions correctly (this is going to be a long experiment, the administrator and I thought to ourselves) I was hooked up to a fMRI machine, which takes image captions of the brain using magnets. I was shoved into the machine and told to watch the computer screen behind me via a mirror attached to the scanner-cage above my eyes. For a little more than an hour, I memorized words written in red and blue, and then had to recall them.

Risks involved: minor amounts of claustrophobia that disappeared once the experiment began, and feelings of inadequacy when I couldn’t remember the words.

After a series of six tests, I did part two of the experiment. I was told to remember a series of three letters, and then told not to remember a different series of three letters. By this point I was a champ at not remembering things, but it was still difficult not to read the letters when they flashed on the screen. There wasn’t a whole lot else to look at. I found myself singing the “Oscar Meyer Wiener” song to distract myself. I wish I could have been in the room with the administrator: This is your brain. This is your brain singing silly jingles. Any questions?

I was also told I was too fidgety. Really? How do you fidget in a fMRI machine?

And the end of it, they handed me a check for $25 and a CD with a scan of my head:
Yep, that’s mah brain. Look at those gorgeous sulci.
This isn’t going to pay my bills this month, but in the lean mean month of August it is a welcome cushion. Plus I didn’t have to edit while I was stuck in the machine, so I was in a sense being paid to procrastinate.
If you live near a university or medical center, you can easily find listings for experiments needing human test subjects. Psychology experiments are the best IMHO because they usually only require you to answer questions or do stuff on a computer. I draw the line at medical experiments that require you to take experimental drugs, though I’m told they do pay more.
Husband thinks my penchant for being a test subject is kind of silly. We were once paid to have a structured conversation with another couple. How can you have a real conversation with someone if you’re both being paid to be there? Plus he was more than a bit miffed that the amount we were paid—$20—was for each couple, not each person. Whoops! Should have read the fine print.
Have any of you volunteered to be a test subject? Did you have a positive or negative experience?
Good luck, my little guinea pigs! And keep writing!

6 thoughts on “Part-time Jobs for Grad Students: Human Guinea Pig

  1. Neurotic Workaholic says:

    I did participate in a focus group once and was paid $100; it was a pretty sweet deal because the discussion only lasted a couple hours. The other people in the focus group liked to talk a LOT, though. I couldn't get a word in edgewise because they kept talking nonstop, often about stuff that had nothing to do with what the focus group was about.

  2. L.G.Smith says:

    I was part of a Pepsi taste test once. They paid twenty dollars for about an hour of my time — and those were 1980's dollars. You gotta go corporate to make the big bucks. 🙂

  3. Meredith says:

    I took a psych class in college, and part of the requirement was being a subject for grad student experiments (though we didn't get paid). It was actually pretty interesting!

  4. Hektor Karl says:

    I was forced to be a lab rat for a bunch of classes I took… didn't get paid for it, though. And I guess it doesn't quite count as volunteering, since it was required to pass the class. 🙂

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