College students are known for finding creative ways to earn money, but few can compete with Boston University senior Allison Yochim — who once earned cash watching duelling images of sea turtles and hard-core pornography.
Yochim, a self-described “lab rat,” says she has made more than $3,000 US by participating in more than 30 medical studies at Boston’s world-class research hospitals.
Researchers here can tap into a pool of about a quarter-million college students to find willing participants for scientific studies.
For some students, including Yochim, taking part can almost be a full-time summer job. During one recent study on female sexuality, Yochim answered a survey of deeply personal questions.
Then researchers measured her body’s response while she watched a computer screen flashing a sequence of nature images spliced with graphic sexual pictures.
“I’m not sure if it was academically credible, but hey, the more tortoises and porn that are involved, the better, because it was interesting,” she said. “If it’s going to yield a hilarious story, it’s worth it. And the money is, of course, a perk. There’s no other time in my life when I can do this without being seen as a weirdo.”
Boston’s subway cars and buses are plastered with advertisements soliciting volunteers for medical research. A glance through college newspapers or free weeklies reveals classified ads promoting studies on everything from HIV vaccine trials to cocaine addiction to restless legs and severe PMS.
“It’s a win-win for college students and a win-win for the greater Boston area when these studies are ethically done,” said Dr. I. James Hudson, a member of a board that supervises medical studies at Harvard’s McLean Psychiatric Hospital. “We know how to do research here, so there’s an assurance that the research will be done by some of the leading people in the world.”
Hudson said many hospitals offer dozens of “pen and pad” studies that have few risks and requirements. The studies, often supervised by graduate students or staged over a few hours, are perfect for “psych 101 students” or students looking to earn quick cash.