From learner to lab rat

Scattered across bulletin boards around campus, fluorescent fliers advertise studies that vary from sex and music to smoking habits to neurological disorders.’ ‘ In the basement of the Davis Center, nine multi-colored fliers adorn a single bulletin board.’ ‘ In the Davis Center tunnel, ‘Need Help Kicking the Habit?’ ‘OPIATES’ and ‘Want to Quit Smoking,’ shout out from behind the glass window boxes.’ These fliers, and their sometimes large monetary compensations advertised, catch the eyes of many students. Although most of the University population does a fair amount of studying, some students are swapping sides to let researchers in the psychology department and medical school study them.’ ‘ In his letter to the UVM community ‘The Road to Excellence – Advancing Academic Distinction at UVM,’ University President Daniel Mark Fogel stated that the Trandisciplinary Research Initiative will help to develop many new opportunities for students to participate in both graduate and undergraduate research.’ Yet this initiative isn’t clear as to whether or not opportunities will be for students as researchers or as test subjects. Dr. Sally Nolan, Research Communications Specialist for the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit at the University, estimated that 15 to 20 percent of their participants in research studies are students.’ ‘ ‘ Studies on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) see particularly large numbers of student participants, she said. In the psychology department, student participation in studies varies from subject to subject.’ While the majority of studies use students as the largest percentage of their subjects, others use them in less than five percent, psychology professor Alessandra Rellini said. Ads for research studies are littered across campus, printed in eye-catching colors with compensation amounts listed in bold lettering, sophomore Alex Haller said. ‘One ad offered up to $650 for participants for 15 days of consecutive testing,’ he said.’ Nolan said that some students are motivated by their interest in the science, some by the money and some by the diagnoses of the diseases or disorders being research. ‘I didnt care what they were researching, what the conditions of the study were or what I had to do, all I wanted was some cash in return for being a lab rat,’ Haller said. For others, like the participants in Rellini’s studies on women’s sexuality, however, the motivation for participating in a study is more personal.’ ‘Sexual abuse survivors ‘hellip; they really want to find answers,’ Rellini said. ‘They are coming in because they hope that, by coming into the studies, they can find information that can help themselves.’ The psychology department will sometimes offer students extra credit for participating in research studies, some of which are conducted by students as research projects or for a thesis, Rellini said. While researchers at UVM can certainly benefit from students’ financial or grade-related motivations, many feel that students shouldn’t think of their studies as sources for quick cash or extra credit.’ ‘ She would not be researching as her’ career’ if it was not important, Nolan said.. To Haller, however, this abundant use of students as test subjects seems like aligning students with lab rats, hesaid. ‘ Though research is monitored by the Institutional Review Board, there are still dangers surrounding studies conducted on human subjects. In 1996, University of Rochester student Nicole Wan died suddenly from an overdose of the anesthetic lidocane, which was administered during a clinical study funded by MIT. The drug was administered as part of study on pollution, according to The Tech, MIT’s newspaper. Wan’s case is a rare exception to the many successfully done studies. In fact, many of the studies, while beneficial to furthering science, can also be beneficial to the participants, according to Rellini. ‘The idea behind it is that they are going to learn what it is like to be on the other side,’ Rellini said. ‘We hope, specifically for students in psychology, that they will get a more holistic view of what it is like to be in a research project.’ Research studies provide the opportunity for students to both participate in the research process and to help to advance beneficial treatments or therapies for disorders and diseases.’ Junior psychology major Brittany Raymond said that participating is more worthwhile than not, having only had a positive experience with the studies conducted by the psychology department. Raymond also stands on the researcher’s side of psychological studies at the University. Although she mostly works with rat models, ‘its incredibly helpful to get people into labs, you’re really helping answer some very interesting questions being asked in science,’ she said. In some cases, however, the benefit does not come without some tough work on behalf of the participants.’ ‘ ‘Some studies are difficult, we ask difficult questions,’ Rellini said. ‘For some people it isn’t an easy thing.’ Rellini said that the studies she does on abuse survivors are especially hard, but that she will soon be conducting a study that involves therapy as part of the process, which can be extremely beneficial to participants. A flier for a study about the experience of sexual abuse in adolescent females currently being conducted by the department of nursing asks for female college freshmen and sophomores to participate.’ The flier states that the study includes a one-hour, face-to-face interview about experiences with sexual abuse. ‘I think that people who are involved in research studies are able to learn something about themselves,’ Nolan said. All of’ ‘ the’ studies’ are monitored by the Committees on Human Research and the Research Protections Office at the University. Additionally, they are reviewed by the Institutional Review Board, according to the Research Protections Office. ‘