Divya Ramesh | Experimenting with Experimetrix
Through My Eyes | Experimetrix would better serve students if all undergraduates could participate in it
February 10, 2013, 11:43 pm·
Through My Eyes
The 700-odd students who take “Introduction to Experimental Psychology” every semester approach Experimetrix with divisive views: they either love or hate it.
Experimetrix is a database Penn uses that collects social science research experiments and recruits participants from affiliated courses for the projects.
Personally, I enjoyed participating in Experimetrix speech labs and word rating exercises that introduced to me to fields like psycholinguistics and visual studies. A friend of mine learned a fake language for a linguistics study and came back saying that it was “awesome.”
According to Georgia Zellou, a researcher and linguistics professor who uses Experimetrix, the system began with two functions: to recruit willing and varied subjects for researchers and to serve a pedagogical function for students.
As it stands, Experimetrix has only partially succeeded on both fronts.
“We don’t want to force people to participate,” said Zellou. “I have always been told not to run experiments at the end of term because we want people who are free, awake and want to do it … not just [those who are] there for the money or course credit.”
Yet, under the current system, what Zellou seeks to avoid happens anyway.
Experimetrix offers projects across many social science disciplines. However, psychology courses like introductory psychology make up the majority of classes that have a research requirement that can be fulfilled with Experimetrix.
Some students in introductory psychology take the class to further an interest, but others take it only to fulfill the College’s living world requirement.
Many students argue that the experiments are boring and consider the research requirement a hassle to fulfill since there aren’t enough eligible experiments for everyone in the lecture hall. One student commented that she wouldn’t “go through with the drag if it weren’t for the stupid research requirement.”
College senior Geena Ianni, who does research in a cognitive neurology lab, sees that attitude as problematic. “[Experimetrix] is an easy way [for me] to schedule undergraduates. But, they should say, ‘I did this research and got course credit. But, the educational experience I had is really valuable.’”
If students currently involved in Experimetrix don’t represent the desired subject pool, then Experimetrix needs to expand its audience to students outside certain classes.
As I initiated conversations about Experimetrix with everyone from economics majors to Russian minors over the past two weeks, I saw that many non-social science students seem interested in Experimetrix.
To these students, whose fields do not involve similar research requirements, participating in research offered a chance to try something different. Involving these students in the Experimetrix data pool would better represent the eager student sample researchers want, as well as relieve the students who dislike the burden of research participation.
“I didn’t even know about [Experimetrix],” said a College junior majoring in anthropology. “I would so participate on those free days when I had the chance.”
So, why isn’t Experimetrix currently open to everyone?
It’s an issue of compensation.
An institutional review board that governs human participation in research mandates that participants be compensated for their time. Experimetrix compensates via research credit and can therefore only be open to students enrolled in affiliated classes.
For the outsiders, the solution is a website called Experiments@Penn that offers monetary compensation for experiment participation. But this system is an inconvenient alternative because it encompasses fewer studies and caters to specialized audiences — some of the studies go on for as long as three hours. It doesn’t seem optimal for undergraduates who might not have three consecutive hours to spare.
Experimetrix should follow Wharton Behavioral Labs’ method and monetarily compensate participants — most projects are under an hour, so the cost would be relatively low. Since the required compensation only needs to match the time spent in the study, the researchers could even compensate participants of 15 to 30 minute experiments with free food.
Combining improved compensation efforts with better publicity and looser affiliations with the introductory psychology course at Penn, Experimetrix could fully achieve its goals: to provide researchers with a truly varied sample of students who actually want to participate while giving all students a chance to get involved with departments outside their majors.
Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @DivyaRamesh11. “Through My Eyes” appears every Monday.