Volunteering by (and benefiting from) filling out research questionnaires

Spoiler alert: I am not talking about the Amazon vouchers.

As part of the Russell Group, the university takes pride in its staff and students for conducting high-quality research. For example, staff in the Department of Psychology publish outstanding studies on the causes of Parkinson’s disease and the brain region associated with it, just to name a few. As for students like us, the SURE scheme allows us to take part in research involving our topic of interest.

Naturally, researchers need participants in order to collect data (although this is an oversimplification). And the most convenient, relatively low-cost method to gather large amount of data in a short period of time is through administration of online questionnaires. As students of a research intensive university, everyday we receive a number of emails labelled [student-volunteers] from various university departments, ranging from Department of Psychology to Geography to even Music (I can’t say I’m not surprised). Each email details the title and purpose of that particular study as well as brief introduction to what you will doing if you take part. By participating in these studies, you are helping the researchers and in the long run, contributing to the advancement of a particular field and broader society. But, what is in it for you? How do you benefit by volunteering to fill out research questionnaires?

Indeed, researchers do provide incentives (e.g. Amazon vouchers!) to encourage students’ participation. But I would like to point out that there’s more to just winning Amazon vouchers.

  • Insight into methodology and research procedures

There are many methods to elicit responses using a questionnaire. For example, open and closed-ended questions, scales (On a scale of 1 to 5, rate your ….), and in some instances, questions which collect your reaction times along with your responses. By filling out research questionnaires, you get a real taste of what these types of question look like and the hows and whys of their uses. Furthermore, as your exposure to research questionnaires increases, you also get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses associated with each type of questions. For example, while open-ended questions yield qualitative data which are both rich and insightful, you might wonder how is the researcher going to compare these subjective data effectively and without bias.

Why is knowing these methodological issues beneficial to you you say? You can incorporate this knowledge when conducting your own research (especially questionnaires) in the future! The validity of your data very much depends on the ways you construct your questionnaire. Having yourself exposed to various questionnaires of different formats, it is highly likely that you will be able to produce high quality questionnaire, thereby collecting valid results.

Also, although this is less obvious, you also have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with ethics procedures, which are one of the most important steps when carrying out research. These procedures include the information sheet attached in the [student-volunteers] email, the consent form at the start of the questionnaire right till the debriefing form at the end. Adherence to these procedures is key in getting your study approved by the ethics committee and it is in your favour to start familiarising  yourself with these procedures before you get too fazed for your final year research project!

  • Gain new knowledge

As previously mentioned, we receive emails from various university departments. How does music affect your short term memory? Occurrence of daily intrusive thoughts? Perceptions of urban environment? As you can see, there’s a wide range of topics being studied via questionnaires. Participating in research questionnaires administered by various departments is a good opportunity to know more of the areas you are not familiar with. Even better, you could gain insights into topics you never knew existed. This can be achieved by simply read through the introduction part of the questionnaire, which details the literature background motivating that particular study. If you wish to dwell deeper, there’s the option of requesting the researcher to send you a copy of the research article once it is completed.

All in all, volunteering by filling out research questionnaires benefits your academic career and helps you to develop a holistic view of the world. So the next time you receive a [student-volunteers] email, instead of just dismissing it, take some time to read through the contents. If it interests you, why not take a step further and participate in the study? There’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain! (p.s. don’t forget about the Amazon vouchers)


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