Information for Research Participants

Should I Participate in Research?

People have many different reasons for volunteering for a research study. Some of those reasons are to:

  • Help find a cure for an illness.
  • Help find ways to provide better care for sick people.
  • Help gather information about how people think and behave.
  • Help discover more about how the body and mind work together.
  • Take part in a study with the hope that they themselves will get well or better. (There is no guarantee, though, that this will happen.)

Opportunities for Research Participants

Columbia University is one of the top research institutions in the world. Thousands of studies are conducted by the university's faculty and research staff each year. Much of this research has led to important results that help us lead healthier and better lives.

There are a wide range of areas where research can take place. These areas include research on health and medical issues, and research on ways of learning, and answers to person and social problems.

Research can be described as an investigation of an issue to learn more about it. It is usually funded by the government, private foundations, and/or drug companies with the hope that the new information will be useful to the public and to other researchers.

Some research can only be done with human participants. Until the medicine or equipment is proven to be useful for people, it cannot be approved by the government for medical use. Not all research conducted at Columbia University is medical. Some researchers focus on issues related to human behavior or learning and others investigate complex social issues.

Much of the research that involves people is conducted by medical doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, and other health professionals. Their work to find new medicines and treatments is called clinical research.

It is important that children, as well as adults, be involved in research so that scientists can understand more about the health and behavior of children. The laws and regulations that apply to all research have special rules to protect children. Children under 18 years of age cannot agree to participate in research for themselves.

Parents and/or guardians who are thinking about having their child involved in research are encouraged to talk with the researchers and to ask them as many questions as they may have.

Informed consent is a process. People who agree to participate in research must first understand and agree to volunteer based on the information provided to them by the researcher. That information must include details about the research, how long it will last, how many visits it will take, and all the risks and benefits.

The Informed Consent Form must contain the names and phone numbers of the researchers and of the Institutional Review Board so that the participant can ask questions about the research or report any problems.

Research in which people will be asked to participate cannot begin until it has been approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). This group of people often includes doctors, social workers, nurses, scientists, and people from the local community. They all work together to make sure that human research is well planned and ethical.

The IRB decides, when approving studies, that it is reasonable to ask people whether they want to be involved. Both before and during the research study, the IRB serves to protect the rights and welfare of research participants. It makes sure that any risks in the research study are as small as possible. The IRB also reviews each study while it is going on to make sure volunteers continue to be protected.