smart spending

University research projects pay cash

You can also keep an eye out around town. Researchers often post fliers in places where their potential subjects are likely to see them, such as on campus, in public libraries and community centers or on merchants' bulletin boards.

If you're concerned about an ad's legitimacy, contact the school directly, says Speers. "If a university is conducting research, there's always going to be a live human being that the potential subject can speak with," she says.

What to ask

You'll usually be required to show a picture ID and sign a consent form before participating, because universities strictly regulate research involving human subjects. The researcher will explain what the study involves and what your rights are.

Ask these key questions before signing on the dotted line:

  • What is the purpose of the study?
  • Was this study approved by an institutional review board? (A "no" isn't necessarily a red flag; certain types of research studies that involve no more than minimal risk are exempt from IRB approval.)
  • What will I be asked to do?
  • How will my privacy be protected?
  • What happens to the information I've provided if I withdraw from the study before it's done?

Landing more money

If you have the time and inclination to commit to a longer study, you'll have more options for higher pay and other forms of compensation.

At Washington State University, nutrition study participants could pocket $100 for eating a daily serving of purple, red or yellow potatoes for six weeks. The research will help determine whether brightly colored potatoes have higher levels of antioxidants than white potatoes, says food science professor Boon Chew.

Amy Mayer, a writer in Greenfield, Mass., has lent the University of Massachusetts Amherst an arm and a leg over the years for kinesiology department research projects. She received several hundred dollars, for example, for completing a two-month study with weekly lab visits to perform arm exercises and receive an MRI.

"There were student trainers working with each of us, and a student trainer also developed a personalized workout for me," says Mayer.

In fact, the department's Muscle Physiology Lab has even hosted an open house to honor the more than 100 local residents -- from 18 to 80 years old -- who participated in its research.

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