Students participate in social sciences labs for money

Oct. 20, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

Students around campus are participating in human research experiments in social science labs, making some extra money and experiencing the research process from the subject side.

In labs in the economics department, psychology department and elsewhere, students are asked to perform tasks ranging from building formations with Legos to completing online memory tests. On average, participants are paid eight to 10 dollars an hour.


Earning money and experience

Because of the flexible hours and financial incentives, many students are opting to participate in these experiments, and some even consider it a part-time job.

“Many of the tasks and pay vary, but it’s more than you would get if you were just doing a minimum wage job, and you’re doing a lot less work,” said Bella Levaggi ’18. “It’s a good way to pay for my cups of coffee.”

The variety and diversity of these studies can motivate the students to participate again.

“For the most part [the studies] are really interesting and they’re always very diverse,” said Bhaven Patel ’16. “I’ve done everything from just eating different M&M’s, to these group studies where I had to build a structure with masking tape and paper.”

The resources around campus also make research participation a unique opportunity that students would not be able to have elsewhere.

“Students who participate in research are awarded so many opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Chrystal Redekopp, lab manager for the sociology department. “For example, some departments ask participants to come in and participate in virtual reality simulations, and you really cannot do that anywhere else.”

Students also find it rewarding to participate because of the esteemed reputation of the Stanford social science departments, and find it worth their time in order to contribute to the growing knowledge of human behavior.

“I’m not going to lie, being part of a ‘Stanford’ study is kind of cool because you always hear about all the cutting-edge research going on here,” Levaggi added.

Usually, students going into the experiments have no foreknowledge of what the study will be testing, or what they will be asked to do. It is only after they sign-in that they are given their assignment and then observed as they complete it.

“It really amazed me that I couldn’t figure out what the experiment was testing from the questions they were asking, because it just didn’t seem connected at all while I was doing the study,” Patel said. “But in the times that I’ve asked about it afterwards, it made total sense.”


Earning credit for participation

In addition to payment, research departments, such as psychology, also give class credit for study participation. In the Psych 1 class, it is required of students to earn at least seven hours of research participation in order to receive credit for the class.

The Psych 1 syllabus states that research participation is important because “[students] will see how concepts [they] learn in class are being used in current research.”

“I got a better sense of how actual experiments work after my experience in the lab and it definitely corresponded to some of the things we’re learning in psych class,” said Annie Graham ’18.


Labs benefit from student resources

Many labs rely on human participants to be able to make inquiries and abstractions about the general population, and would not be able to conduct their research without student participation.

“Our science is conducted only by having people in the lab,” said Nicholas Hall, associate director of the Behavioral Lab at the Graduate School of Business. “If we don’t have people in the lab, our research gets held up — it’s slow and all that.”

In general, these labs make it easy for students to sign up for experiments. Students are given a baseline questionnaire to receive information about upcoming experiments, and can sign up for participation times based on their own schedule. If there are conflicts in a student’s’ schedule, he or she can always call to cancel. Last minute cancellations, however, do pose problem for researchers.

“In our lab, we have about 2,000 students in our system, but the number of students who are active is just a fraction of that,” Hall said. “Twenty to 25 percent of the time, students won’t show up after they’ve signed up, and this is problematic for us because people don’t have to come in and we can’t force them.”

To overcome this, labs give students three strikes to cancel and do not let them participate in any more research after that for the rest of the quarter.

Contact Stephanie Zhang at szhang3 ‘at’


Update: A previous version of this article gave Chrystal Redekopp’s position as lab director instead of lab manager. This has since been corrected.

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