In this issue

Incorporating reciprocity into the research process

Advice for giving back to study participants and research assistants.

By Ruth Walker

Somewhere at the end of my second year of graduate school, while completing my thesis, I began to feel uncomfortable with the research methods I was using. I was uncomfortable with 274 women from the community voluntarily giving their time to complete a large packet of surveys while receiving nothing in return. I also was uncomfortable with the amount of time the undergraduates working in my advisor's lab put into helping me collect and enter data. Thus, for the past three years, I have and continue to work to do a better job of making my research process more beneficial to all parties involved.

Giving Back to Participants

When I talk about giving back to participants, I mean more than what you would write in a research article when discussing participant incentives such as nominal monetary payments. However, I do not want to discredit money as an incentive. Taking the time to write grants to pay participants for their time is a valuable, and appreciated, endeavor. I also recognize that finding alternative methods of giving back to participants can be difficult when your time and resources are already stretched thin. Thus, it is important to be selective about what you can do with the time and resources you have.

For myself, I volunteered for a community wellness program for low-income, predominantly black, older adults. I gave talks and facilitated activities on age-related topics of their choice for the past three years. By the time I was ready to recruit for my dissertation, I had developed a relationship with the residents such that I received an overwhelming response when I asked if they would be willing to contribute to my research. It also helped that by using qualitative methods, they really felt that their voice was being heard, something they did not feel when asked to complete surveys by other students in the past. Although this may be too time intensive for most schedules, you can modify it to fit your availability. For instance, if you are asking a local community center, church or other group for assistance recruiting older adults, you can offer to give a talk to their group on a topic that may be of interest to them (e.g., dementia, stress).

Giving Back to Research Assistants

I strive to give back to my research assistants by working professional development opportunities into our lab meetings. For example, this semester our lab meeting schedule included learning:

  • Different approaches to qualitative research.
  • Qualitative coding methods.
  • Facilitating interviews and focus groups.
  • Common issues with qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Our last two meetings focused on giving them feedback on what they needed to do to prepare for the graduate school application process (including a detailed timeline) and revising their resumes and CVs. These meetings encouraged the development of additional skills they could add to their resumes, helped them articulate those skills on their resumes and gave them individualized advice to prepare them for applying to the graduate program that best fit their career goals. Further, I am hosting a one-day SPSS workshop for all my past research assistants this summer to give them quantitative tools to support their success in future research endeavors.

It helps if you have a supportive faculty advisor to assist with giving students training and feedback as you are learning those skills yourself. My advisor, Toni Bisconti, PhD, was able to attend the meetings where we discussed the graduate school application process and resume development, which gave students the opportunity to hear from someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience in those areas. Additionally, I was able to grow as an educator by learning what I should point out and emphasize to my future students.

I encourage you to get creative and to talk to your participants, students and advisors to find ways that you can give back that work for you.

Have additional methods for giving back to participants and student research assistants? I would love to hear them.