smart spending

University research projects pay cash

orange book with money and an apple on top
  • Researchers in nutrition, psychology, etc., need people of all ages.
  • The pay's small, but you derive satisfaction from helping others.
  • Those who can commit to a longer study may be handsomely rewarded.

Looking for a way to earn fast money and help your fellow man -- or woman -- at the same time? Sign up for a university research project and get paid to talk to your classmates, chew gum, play computer games and lots of other activities that were verboten in your classroom days.

You're never too old for this student gig: Researchers in nutrition, psychology, marketing and other fields need people of all ages.

The UCLA Anderson Behavioral Lab, for example, conducts online and in-person questionnaires about decision-making, consumer behavior and social issues and pays $10 to $20 per hour in cash, gift certificates or through PayPal.

At Harvard Business School's Computer Lab for Experimental Research, locals can register online for lab studies that usually last one to two hours and pay $15 to $40. Or they can take a 15-minute online study, usually for a $5 electronic gift certificate.

You won't get rich

Compensation for participating in academic research is usually under $50, in the form of cash or a gift card, for online surveys, interviews, group discussions and performing simple tasks. The big bucks -- hundreds or thousands of dollars -- are paid for projects that last months or years, and may require eating a special diet, checking in daily for medical tests or even staying overnight at a university facility.

But you do get the satisfaction of knowing you're contributing to research that benefits others, says Kate Kelley, senior off-campus research coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Behavioral Lab. "You get that psychic reward, too," she says.

How to enroll

Finding studies that need people isn't difficult. "Almost all midsize to large universities have an active research program," says Marjorie Speers, president and CEO of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs. Some online universities also do research, but most of them focus on teaching.

The easiest way to find projects is by surfing the Web sites of local universities. Use search terms such as "research participants needed" or "paid study participants" to find upcoming project listings or information about joining a participant pool. If you come up empty-handed, try contacting the university's institutional review board, or IRB, which oversees research using human subjects. Or, try the academic department that studies topics in which you're interested.

The nonmedical areas where you're most likely to find research projects using human subjects include psychology, sociology, economics, political science, nutrition and business.


Craigslist regularly runs ads seeking people for paid studies. Look in the Jobs section under "ETC" or in the Community section under "Volunteers."

Local newspapers may run advertisements for paying academic studies in the classifieds and other sections such as business or lifestyle.

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