Earn Money – Science & Medical Research

Earning Money While Travelling – Medical Studies

When you haven’t got a regular job because you travel a lot people often ask how you manage to fund your travel, and if they don’t ask they’re often wondering. Besides the standard being careful with your money and working hard while you can and saving I’ve also found I’ve been able to make some tax free money through participating in science and medical research studies.

When you mention to someone that you’ve been earning money through volunteering in medical research studies expect a sharp intake of breath and shocked questions. “You let scientists experiment on you? Oh my God, what do they do to you!

‘Medical Research’ – it immediately conjures up images of Frankenstein, Nazi Doctors’ Trials, or perhaps the 2006 human clinical trial of TGN1412. In this trial 6 previously healthy males within minutes of receiving a tiny fraction of the TGN1412 drug which had been safely used on animals complained of pain. Within hours they were in intensive care suffering from multiple organ failure. So yes, participating as a guinea pig in research studies can be dangerous but this example is an isolated case, and not all research is drug research.

Risky & Non-Risky Research Studies for Money

For me there are two types of research study. Firstly there are those studies that have potential risk, like drug trials, and then there are studies that don’t have risk (like a language study). Of course there is always a risk/reward ratio and the risk-free work will pay accordingly.

Healthy v Specific Medical Condition Volunteers

There are also two other categories of science & medical research studies; those looking for healthy volunteers and those looking for volunteers which a specific medical condition. PaidClinicalTrials.org is one such website I came across which seems to specialise in finding subjects for trials who have an existing medical condition. Unfortunately I don’t have any existing medical conditions as yet so they’re currently useless but if I ever develop something I’ll give them a second look.

Easy Money – Participate in an Extended Drug Trial

If you want to make an easy five grand in a month Johnny from OneStep4Ward.com has a positive account of how he did just that. He spent thirty days in a private hospital and with the money paid off his debt and started his  life of perpetual travel. I haven’t done anything this dramatic; I don’t even like taking drugs which have been FDA approved and in operation for years let alone testing new ones – I guess I’m paranoid about losing control of my body.

Check out this article for an interesting look at the lives of several people who make their full time living as professional drug testing guinea pigs. Earning up to $80,000 per year participating in a number of drug studies. You may think that if there is risk when participating in only one study that there is compounded risk of something bad happening if you make a profession of it. I tend to agree and have no intention of becoming a professional guinea pig. However there is a reasonable argument that doing science and medical research studies is actually pretty safe – you’re always medically monitored and if anything goes wrong you’ll be given immediate treatment. Having immediate professional help on hand potentially makes drug trials safer than many workplaces and comparable to crossing a road, flying in a plane or eating a large steak (choking hazard).

Research Studies I’ve Participated In For Money

Unlike Johnny I haven’t done an extended study, just a few hours here and there:

  • Pain Testing ($50 for about two hours)
    This initially sounded like it could be painful. I imagined being tested by some secret arm of the military for determining more effective torture methods. But it was just a university study. Using a heat pad on my arm to determine my pain threshold and skin sensitivity – no burns, not even a red mark.
  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) & Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) ($100 for about two hours)
    This was kind of cool. First they did an MRI scan of my brain and I memorised a simple tapping order with four of my fingers. Then there was the TMS part where they electromagnetically stimulated a certain part of my brain using this handheld box gun thing to hyperpolarize or depolarize (I never asked which) certain neurons in my brain. After I was suitably polarised I was rushed back into the MRI scanner where they took an fMRI scan of my brain while I repeated the tapping order with my fingers.

  • Language, Reading & Eye Tracking ($25 for less than two hours)
    I turned up for this study and they couldn’t get the computer to work, so I left 10 minutes later with $20 for the inconvenience. On another day I went back after they’d sorted the problem (the screen had gone to sleep and they just needed to move the mouse – scientists, sometimes you really have to wonder…) and did the study (additional $25 in my pocket). I rested my head into a chin and forehead rest so that I didn’t move. I was in front of a computer monitor with an eye tracking camera tracking my eye movements. They had software which would only show me objects or words when I moved my eyes to look at certain parts of the screen. It was pretty cool, I couldn’t help but imagine how the technology could be implemented into video games.
  • Memory Testing pilot study ($30 for about 90 minutes)
    This was where it all stated, a few psychological questions and some memory tasks on a computer from students in psyd programs and I received $30, couldn’t help but think it was easy money.

Unlike the extended trials which I’ve heard can pay up to $10,000 USD these odd research studies only provide a little pocket money. But a little money is better than none, plus most of the studies have been interesting and they’ve managed to fit into my schedule.

Where to Find Science & Medical Research Studies

I’ve had most of my luck on one of the local universities online classified listings, but it really depends where you are. My main tip would be to search for key words like “participants“, “study“, “clinical trial“, “medical research“, “clinical research“, then add the URL to your RSS reader (eg. Google Reader) and just keep an eye on any listings which pop up.

The following websites may also be useful, particularly for larger more lucrative science and medical research studies. However the search process is harder and since they are not location specific you may find yourself needing to do a lot of travelling just to participate. Certainly check your local classifieds first.
http://www.centerwatch.com/clinical-trials/listings/ (United States based)
http://apps.who.int/trialsearch/ (World Health Organisation – useful for various countries)
http://www.controlled-trials.com/mrct/ (UK & international controlled trial database)

Questions to Ask the Researcher

– What are the possible risks?
– Are my medical expenses covered in the event of any side effects?
– What is the procedure?
– How long will this take?
– How much will I be paid?
– What happens if I pull out part way through the trial?
Everything should be clearly written down in a contract so that there is no doubt about their responsibilities and yours.

Questions to Ask Yourself

– Is the money worth the risk?
– What are my alternatives?

Have you ever participated in paid research studies? 


  1. Great post and very interesting. Have to laugh at the Pain Testing! The images that Pain Testing conjures up is priceless! Cool video too.

  2. This is a great idea, Sam! And boy do I know about this! I used to work in various laboratories in the psych department at UBC. Don’t forget to look at Craigslist too! A new professor that had arrived at UBC tipped us onto it. She posted her studies in Craigslist when she was at Harvard and we started doing it at UBC too!

    • Thanks Samantha. Yes I believe the best the best online classified service is Craiglist but it can depend on what area you’re in. Up here in Canada it alternates between Craiglist and Kijiji and sometimes a pretty even spread between both…

    • Where would they have these types of ads listed on Craigslist???

      • Under the jobs section mostly, just use one of the search terms (‘study’ is my favourite). Also occasionally under the community section (volunteers). Also worth while checking your nearest university and seeing if they have a clarified section.

  3. I know this is an old post but I couldn’t help being amused that your previous one is about the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park.

    • Hi Shane, it is an old post, so not 100% sure. But 99% sure the previous post wouldn’t have been on Canyonlands – we visited Canyonlands as part of our 3 month US road trip, and a lot happened on that trip after Canyonlands that is on this blog, and all of which was before living in Montreal – where this particular post is based. That said, I’m not saying your wrong, just that my blog was for some reason giving you incorrect information – bloody thing!