Eating Without Pain in Grad School

Over at Neurotopia, the Evil Monkey is offering advice on how to earn extra money in graduate school:

The key to more than mere culinary survival in graduate school is to volunteer for research studies. I took part in more projects than I could count. Some don't pay squat. I once spent 2 hours a day for ten days sitting in front of an infrared tracking system that monitored shifts in my visual search patterns and movements of my finger as I followed a dot around a screen. I made about 100 bucks for that. At the time, I thought it a princely sum. Then I discovered where the real money was: in pain.

That's right. Pain. If you want to make money being a lab rat, seek out the pain studies. Furthermore, seek out pain studies that involve imaging the brain with a radioactive tracer. You're looking at a minimum of 250 bucks for an hour or two of your time.

A friend of mine did something pretty similar when he was in grad school in international relations. On one occasion, he spent a day as a test subject for a new anti-nausea drug, which involved taking the test substance, and then periodically being given something that was supposed to induce nausea. You really don't want to be part of the placebo group for that one.

If you have a low pain threshold, though, or, like me, a bone-deep loathing of all things medical, this may not be an option. In which case, you might want to look into the less gross option I used as a grad student: standardized tests.

You can't make money by taking standardized tests, of course, but you can get paid for giving them. Just about any university in the country will be a designated test center for all those bubble-sheet tests-- SAT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT, and the rest of the alphabet soup-- and those tests need to be proctored. And the test companies pay surprisingly well.

One of my friends from Usenet, back in the day, was in the psych department at Johns Hopkins, which ran the standardized tests for Baltimore. They had an email list of people they would send notices to whenever a test was coming up, and I managed to get on the list. Every couple of months, I'd get email asking for people to proctor some test or another, and how much they would pay.

The rates varied a bit from test to test, and depending on what job you were doing. It was usually $100-$150. I think the highest rate was for reading the instructions for the MCAT, which was something like $175. That's a nice extra bit of money, if you're living on a grad student stipend.

You did have to work for it, but the work was pretty mindless. For most of the tests, you just checked people off a list as they came in, then handed out the test papers, and read the instructions. Then you could read a magazine for an hour or so, until it was time to collect the papers.

The MCAT was more work, because they're exceedingly paranoid-- we had to fingerprint people as they arrived to take the test, and assign them seats. When we collected the papers for each section of the MCAT, not only did we need to count the exam books to make sure we got them all, we had to count the pages in each of the books.

On the bright side, though, you got to see a bunch of future doctors teetering on the edge of a complete mental breakdown. I was always sort of tempted to mess with their heads further ("I'm sorry, this ID picture doesn't really look like you. Do you have anything else?"), but I'm too nice.

Really, about the worst part of it was having to drive to Baltimore early on a Saturday morning. But that was a small price to pay in order to gain beer and pizza money for a month.

So, if you're in grad school, I recommend asking around to see if you can get on the list for test proctors. It's decent money for dull but easy work, and you don't need to get stuck with needles.

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This is good advice, but I think I'll stick with my current method of earning extra money: private tutoring. I don't make as much in an hour as the above options, but I can do it far more often and have fun while doing it. It may be that there are more opportunities for tutoring in mathematics than in other fields, so maybe this isn't an option for most other grad students, but I'm going to take advantage of it. I also have the advantage of being near my undergrad school, so the network of satisfied customers over there hasn't gone to waste. Since starting grad school, I've already gotten a number of tutoring requests from faculty over there who have heard of me through word of mouth.

I'll defiantly look into the proctoring, sounds like a nice gig and the extra income would be appreciated. I'd love to do as Susan says and tutor, but department policy forbids teaching assistants from tutoring on the side (understandable - possible conflicts of interest and such), and as a theory student I'll always be stuck with at least a half-time TA

I hear great things about hourly rates in private tutoring, but you have to build the client list.

I did a postdoc at a medical research institute (I do biophysics), and over the span of a year I earned almost $1000 while also getting free vaccinations. Of course, I only volunteered for studies where they were testing dosages--safety and efficacy had already been demonstrated for these vaccines, and they just wanted to see how low of a dose you could get and still produce antibodies.

The big one, the study I never volunteered for but should have, was $1500 for a sleep deprivation study. They'd keep you awake for 24 hours (no big deal to somebody who's written a dissertation) but you'd be in the hospital for 4 days: Check in Thursday morning, be monitored all day Thursday to see what your normal condition is, sleep there Thursday night so they see what you're like when normal, stay awake all day Friday and Friday night, then on Saturday in the middle of the day they let you sleep until some time on Sunday. That's a lot of time, and when you're making postdoc salary the $1500, while very nice, is just not quite enough to justify being away from work for all that time.

I made extra money for awhile working for The Princeton Review. That and other test prep places also make for decent money without too much pain.

They're not paying as much to be a lab rat ever since the economy tanked. I only got $135 to get hooked up to an IV for 7 hours and I couldn't eat anything the day before. I feel like I should file a lawsuit.

then there is always the possibility of becoming a semen donor...

I used to work on a cancer drug project and they were paying healthy volunteers in a pilot study to take our drug candidate. This is done with every drug candidate before it goes to patients, to see if there is good absorption and distribution etc, typically at lower, sub-therapeutic dose. But from what I heard in our case they were apparently escalating it up to the full dose. I don't think these healthy volunteers were told that they were receiving the full dose of chemotherapy drug - even if for a limited period of few days.

I did a stint teaching an SAT prep class in law school. It's a lot more work if you're not naturally a classroom teacher, as I am not.