COLUMNS

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May 17, 2011

Getting psyched

Participating in research studies provides interesting experiences, profit

As long as there has been a University of Chicago, there has been tension between the graduate and undergraduate programs: Which should be our preeminent focus? I, a young undergraduate, say unreservedly: graduate! Why? Because U of C graduate programs are world leaders in research? Maybe, but that’s not what I’m concerned about. What I care about is a little more selfish. Graduate programs do mean research, but research means test subjects! And that is where I, a young, broke undergraduate, gladly step up to the plate.

Many of the most coveted jobs around campus are work-study (I’m talking to you, person who guards the door to the Harper Reading Room) or involve getting hung up on by disgruntled alumni or parents (we still appreciate you, indefatigable laborers of the Alumni House call squad). A few lucky students do get chosen to man the charming staples of campus culture, the student-run coffee shops, but I think my music taste is slightly too accessible to be played in Cobb. So what is left for me? I too need to earn money to waste on $9 sandwiches at Z&H and $5 cover charges at Club DU. Where can I turn?

You may think, in the context of U of C culture, that “yoda” refers to a well-spent Friday night with the Star Wars trilogy (I’ll ignore Episodes I-III), or that “sona” must be a typo in an essay on Brave New World. They are, however, online databases for “human subject pool management.” They are, essentially, my perpetual job application that rarely gets denied–they are my meal tickets at the U of C.

Thanks to sona, I have found myself in the Physiology building (yes, that exists) sticking my hand under a black hood and entering the “roughness rating” of various materials on a keypad. Thanks to sona, I have had electrodes strapped to my head and fingers while I sit in a plush recliner and gamble fake money on a flat-screen TV (Beecher has the ultimate “Man Cave” if you know where to look). Thanks to sona, I have found myself watching The Cosmos with Carl Sagan on a Friday afternoon, and I have been wearing a sleek hospital gown and climbing into an fMRI machine before Sosc class. And all this for the same pay as a Metcalf Internship.

Okay, so it’s not exactly glamorous–or totally consistent. But it does pay well. My Sunday night routine now includes watching an episode or two of The West Wing looking for real life parallels to Obama, and logging on to sona-systems to browse through the upcoming week’s study offerings (lay off me, I’m only taking three classes this quarter–something, incidentally, that I highly recommend). If I can squeeze in three hours or so of studies, well, there’s some spending money for the weekend, and if I can score a big one (like the much coveted fMRI study), then maybe I can even save some money (thank you, Econ 198).

But I feel like I’m slighting one of the most popular contributors to undergraduate cash flow: Booth’s Decision Research Lab (DRL). If you’ll forgive a timely sports reference, the DRL is sort of the Joakim Noah of the U of C study scene–a not-too-flashy but definitely reliable source for a few points (or bucks) on a Friday evening. Plus (here’s an insider tip I almost hesitate to publish), if you put up with the longer waits on a Friday afternoon (typically the DRL’s busiest time of week), the Winter Garden in Booth is often the source of inexplicable free food and booze. Fill out a few surveys, maybe watch a clip of Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, and grab a tamale and a glass of cheap Merlot when you’re finished–sounds like a good deal to me.

So perk up, starving undergrad. Put down that meager block of ramen. Log onto sona-systems (http://uchicago.edu.sona-systems.com) and squeeze a study into a lunch break or two. You can make it from the BSLC to Beecher, make $10 in a study, and book it to Henry Hinds in under an hour–I promise, I’ve done it more than once.

Colin Bradley is a first-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.

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