Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Being on the Flip Side of the Research – A Ph.D.’s Perspective as a Study Participant

on May 30, 2013

Last month, instead of wheeling the stroller through my favorite engineering building to see this year’s Engineering Open House displays, we went as a family to some other parts of our local university for All-University Open House.  (This event is something I’ve delighted in since I was in high school and first came to explore the campus and programs with my family.  I usually make it a priority to at least see some of the engineering displays each April.)  Instead of my two-year-old being able to create a test tube of layered, colored liquids and be involved in the manufacture of a customized brownie (from the Chemical Engineering and Industrial Engineering departments last year, respectively), we began our adventure in the building that houses Human Ecology programs.  Little Clara seemed more intrigued by the playroom set up for Early Childhood Education, the inflatable vessel that whirled money around her (being used for some kind of time-value of money presentation), the balloons and train outside as we walked nearer to the College of Education, the sidewalk chalk near the Art department, the gardens and insect zoo, and the snacks she got as we learned how cattle feed is mixed in the College of Agriculture.  It was fun to take in the event as more of a family activity rather than me just getting a bit of an engineering fix.

While we were in the Human Ecology building, though, a woman, seeing my husband and I with our little ones, handed me a slip of paper calling for research participants in a study.  I fit the criteria.  With an incentive of a $50 gift card for attending an hour-long class and cooking two kid-friendly meals, I was interested.  I signed up.

I attended the class this week, and, as a researcher myself, I left with more questions than I came with.  Granted, this is a field (dietetics) that I’m not overly familiar with in terms of what kind of research is funded and published.  The hour-long class probably took 30 minutes, involved a last-minute location change, and included two handouts for recipe resources.  Copies of the slide presentation were not supplied.  The facilitator read from her notes, adding personal stories from time to time.  I wasn’t impressed by this, but it wasn’t too surprising either, as I figured the methodology of the study must require a certain text/presentation be given to all participants.  Our class was around 12 people, while they are hoping to find 120 participants.  The content focused on the benefits of eating vegetables, with information about different types of vegetables and ideas on how to make them more appealing to children.

A calendar was being passed around as I arrived (a couple of minutes late), and I learned that we were to cook the two meals alone in a condo near campus, rather than in our own homes.  I had pictured cooking at home and answering a survey about the cooking experience as well as how well it was received by my little ones.  Cooking off-site was not mentioned in the previous communications I’d had (info sheet, phone call, e-mail reminder).  Other moms asked if we got to taste the food we’d be preparing.  The answer was no.  Another surprise.  “So, is this just to see how easy the recipes are to prepare?” another participant asked.  “Yes.”  Very vague.  I asked about the funding source.  The FDA is funding this study that only includes our university.

I fully expect there to be hidden cameras set up in the condo, similar to the rooms set up to record how teams worked or how sales presentations were given in some of my previous universities.  I’m not sure if the lack of information is intentional (some studies need participants to be a little “in the dark” to avoid bias) or if it is just poor implementation.  Hearing the experiences and questions from the other participants, I think they may already have a biased sample of sorts.  (These moms sounded MUCH more conscientious about buying and preparing vegetables than I ever have been!)  Also, the connection between the class (focused on vegetables) and the recipes (something with fruit and a meatball recipe) seem unrelated.

So now, instead of just being interested in learning something new and acquiring a gift card, I’m a little more interested in reading the grant proposal, checking what kind of Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was needed, knowing what kind of methodology will be used in the analysis, and reading the final results.    I don’t have time to investigate that on my own, but I think I’ll be asking more questions when I go to cook next week.

And, I’ll be looking for those hidden cameras.

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2 responses to “Being on the Flip Side of the Research – A Ph.D.’s Perspective as a Study Participant

  1. Susana A. says:

    So interesting! I cannot wait to hear about your experience cooking in the condo.

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