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Students Opt for Non-Traditional On-Campus Jobs

By Patrick Galvin, Crimson Staff Writer

He could have taken one of the hundreds of jobs offered by the Harvard University Library system like many of his peers. He could have turned to Dorm Crew, or he could have chosen to work as an office assistant in one of the College’s many departments when he needed a little extra spending money. But last year, Todd G. Venook ’13 found it much simpler to skip getting a “real” part-time job and to instead venture across the river to the Business School when he needed some extra cash.

“Last year, whenever I wanted to go to a concert or something like that, I would just go to a business school study and that would pay for it,” Venook said. “It’s a nice way to pick up an occasional 20 bucks here and there.”

Although Venook now earns money as a Peer Advising Fellow and no longer needs to trek to the Business School each time he needs a fresh $20 bill, many undergraduates continue to earn money by frequenting studies conducted by the graduate schools, which offer human subjects an average of $10 to $20 per study.

As undergraduates flock to participate in these studies, the availability of easy money in labs is posing a challenge to the idea of the traditional undergraduate job that has students camped out behind a desk in a dusty library with one’s books while bringing home minimum wage. And because Harvard boasts some of the highest payments for human subjects of any school in the country undergraduates are readily taking advantage of the researchers’ deep pockets.

Sites like the Business School Computer Lab for Experimental Research and the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory are especially popular among undergraduates, because studies require minimal registration, rarely take longer than an hour, and can earn students up to $25 in a single sitting.

As a result a growing group of undergraduates frequently opt to rely on study participation as a supplement to, or in some cases, a replacement for, a part-time job.

“It’s a lot easier than going in and working somewhere,” Zak T. Aossey ’14 said. “You make about the same amount in an hour than you would in two at a regular on-campus job. Whenever I have a week off, I’ll try to go in and do as many as I can.”

Aossey earns a steady income working part-time for the Institute of Politics and the athletic department, which is just across the street from the Business school where he can make what he calls “easy money.”

Aossey says that on a good week he can squeeze up to three CLER studies in a single week. He recently earned $120 for his efforts as a human subject—clicking buttons on a computer screen and answering questionnaires—over a two-week period.

CLER studies offer the highest compensation because unlike most of the graduate school studies CLER does not limit participants to a maximum number of studies in a single year. The Psychology department and Decision Science Laboratory have a cap in place of 10 and 15 studies, respectively.

However, for tax reasons, all graduate schools are required by the University to limit the earnings of a subject to $600 in one fiscal year.

Because it has no limit to the number of studies allowed and also averages the highest compensation per study of the three departments, CLER has approximately two or three subjects per year that reach the limit.

The ample opportunity to make money through these studies is tempting enough to for students like Philip Choi ’14 to refrain from entering the labor force.

“I go whenever there are studies open on the CLER website or the decision lab,” said Choi. “Usually, my parents give me cash, but other than that, this is kind of my only thing.”

Choi claims the flexibility of the study schedule is much more appealing to students than the structured schedule of most jobs.

But a small, dedicated group of study participants can also raise problems for researchers who seek a representative sample in their data. If the same group of individuals are participating in studies on a regular basis, that can raise questions about data integrity.

According to Psychology Department Study Pool Coordinator Janet Smith, researchers highly encourage undergraduate participation in pools because it broadens and diversifies data. However, the department discourages and tries to prevent one participant from taking too many studies because it can damage data validity.

That is a big part of why many schools cap the number of studies one subject can participate in during a year.

“The more people we have participating the better the data will be,” Smith said. “That is true with any kind of research. If you do a study with 500 people rather than five, you’re going to get better data because you have better sampling.”

Sometimes individuals try to get around the 15 study limit or do not pay close attention to the study requirements, she said.

“It’s better for all of us if people follow the rules,” Smith said. “It would really help us if people take a look at the rules. The rules we have help protect the data.”

But for students, the flexibility of the job can also come with inconsistency.

Studies are offered during most hours of the work day and students may sign up for them up to 24 hours in advance, allowing the system to accommodate virtually any schedule. But since studies are not scheduled everyday and have limited enrollment, it can be challenging to always find a suitable time slot, which can make it difficult to rely on study participation as a steady source of income.

“Sometimes, there are no studies one week and a ton the next week,” said Sarah Hirschfeld-Sussman, Laboratory Manager at the Decision Science Laboratory. “With a library job, there is a lot of consistency, but with us, it’s a little more risky.”

Despite these risks, Hirschfeld-Sussman says that the nature of the studies serves as an incentive for undergraduates to participate.

“It’s fun and it’s different,” Hirschfeld-Sussman said. “Every time you come it’s a completely different study. Sometimes, you get results about yourself, your behavior, and how you make decisions.”

Students echo Hirschfeld-Sussman’s assertions and say that participating in studies can be a more enjoyable experience than working a desk job.

“I think some of them are pretty interesting to do and a more fun way to make money,” said Angela C. Li ’14, who frequents studies at the Psychology Department. “They have you do pretty interesting things, but also I’ve read a lot about psych studies, and it’s really nice to be on the other side of it.”

—Staff writer Patrick Galvin can be reached at

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