It pays to be a guinea pig - The Buffalo News
print logo

It pays to be a guinea pig

In college, the old cliche was that when someone was desperate for money, they would sell their platelets.


When I was in school, I knew the real money was in research studies – being a guinea pig for some graduate student gathering data.

The first one I tried was through the University at Buffalo. It paid me, like, $200 to carry around a PDA and answer questions about my feelings every few hours when its timer went off. $200! For a broke college student, that’s like winning the lottery.

Then there was the one at Roswell Park Cancer Institute that paid me to take an herbal supplement and measure its effects on my efforts to quit smoking. That one paid handsomely – not just the cash, but because it actually helped me quit smoking.

At hospitals and universities, clinicians, doctors, professors, students and scientists conduct research to gather data about everything from human behavior to – in the case of clinical trials – the effectiveness of an experimental drug.

Some studies look for people with a certain condition or disease, or people who engage in certain behaviors (like eating junk food or doing yoga), others look for what they call “healthy volunteers.”

Each study will clearly outline all of the risks and benefits before you begin. You’re free to quit participating at any time, but you shouldn’t begin a study unless you fully intend to see it through.

This is serious business. Your help is needed by these researchers who are doing very valuable work, so you should absolutely take it seriously.

You won’t get rich, but you will most likely be compensated for your time and travel expenses (that will all be outlined ahead of time, too). You’ll often be paid one chunk of money toward the beginning of the study, a little more in the middle and a big chunk at the end.

Right now at UB, a researcher is doing a fun study about grocery purchases. Shoppers must be 19 years old or older and have at least one child at home between ages 2 and 18. To participate, call 829-6694 or 829-6122 or visit

Over at the UB School of Medicine, there’s a study that measures salivary reactions in kids ages 8 to 12 when they’re presented with food. It pays $300 in gift cards.

Another one is looking for women with irritable bowel syndrome. It pays up to $200 and gives participants access to medical care and treatment. For a list of other studies happening there, visit

Roswell Park Cancer Institute has a list of studies as well. You can find it at or (877) 275-7724.

The University of Rochester Medical Center is a bit far, but if you’re looking for a certain type of treatment, it could be worth the drive. Visit and click on “open studies” to see where you might be a good fit, or click “healthy volunteers,” then sign up for the URMC Volunteer Registry.

The National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health maintains a Web site that compiles clinical trials available across the country at

Just type in a geographic area and/or an ailment. For example, “‘diabetes’ and ‘Buffalo’” returns 100 clinical trials, 17 of which are actively recruiting participants.

The Stanford University Behavioral Lab is a little different in that you’ll get paid just to fill out surveys ($2 to $15 in Amazon gift cards for surveys that take from five to 30 minutes). Visit

email: or call MoneySmart at 849-4612. Follow me on Twitter @DiscountDivaSam or like me on Facebook at

There are no comments - be the first to comment