Volunteer for Knowledge!

Sep 23, 2013
Tagged with: Volunteer for Knowledge!

Warning: this blog post is 100% biased. I love research (nerd alert!), I’m in the process of making a career out of it, and I think you should get involved.

Research is how we know things: how exercise improves your health, what foods are good for specific conditions, what dosages of drugs are appropriate, what surgeries are best and how to perform them. Research allows us to discover new things too…to test new ideas and compare them to the standard to see which is better and thus continue to improve our knowledge and treatments.

It’s not perfect. We can’t truly “prove” something to be true for everyone, all the time. There are always limitations…flaws in design and variables affecting results. However, a well-designed  project can usually overcome most limitations. That’s why it’s important to know how the investigators tested their question and specifically what types of people were participating.

Which brings me to my main point…participating. Research about human health wouldn’t happen without humans willing to give their time to participate in the study. Sound scary? Don’t like the idea of being a “guinea pig”? You’re definitely not alone. But hear me out!

Every university conducting research has an entire group of people dedicated to ensuring participant safety called the Institutional Review Board, or IRB.  Every study is required to submit an IRB application before it begins and every change made throughout the study has to be approved by the board. They make sure risks to the participants are minimized and benefits are maximized.

Just like anything else, there may be risks involved in participating in a study. However, these will be clearly explained to you before you sign up during what is called the informed consent process. You may be asked a few questions on the phone (a screening call) before the consent process, but consent must happen before you start the study. Make sure to read the document carefully and ask questions of the research staff if necessary. They are required to make sure you understand what your full participation in the study involves.

It is very important to follow the instructions of research staff while you are in the study, such as how to do an exercise or when to take a study medication, because this is how they make sure the changes they see are truly from their study and not something else. However, you may stop participating at any point for any reason. Your participation in research studies is completely voluntary throughout the entire time.

So why participate? Well, you may receive some direct benefits from the study, like improved fitness, which should also be clearly explained to you during the consent process. But more importantly, you may be helping a lot of other people by volunteering. You would be aiding the process of discovering new treatments, improving existing ones, or answering questions about what is best for someone’s health. It can also be a great way to get out of the house, meet new people, and be involved in your community!

Have you participated in a research study before? Why or why not? If you have, what was your experience? How could the research staff  have improved your experience?

The websites of your local universities would be a great way to find out about studies happening in your area. You can also sign up for updates about research volunteer opportunities at https://www.researchmatch.org/, which helps to connect volunteers to research staff.


Author: Katie Henley