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Don't know much about research but want to get involved? You've come to the right place. 

Research Process

 There are many types of research, from basic to complex.  Research is a process that allows us to follow a detailed plan in order to learn more about a specific topic or question.  Research can be done in a laboratory, a clinic, a school, a community, or even in your own backyard!  Here at Research for Me @UNC, we focus on the kind of research that needs to partner with participants like you in order to answer important questions.

In order to test these ideas, researchers ask for volunteers from the community or clinic to consider joining the study. Volunteers, who are often called research participants, agree to do certain activities (which are different for every study) in order to provide information and data which helps the researcher to answer the question.

The Research Question

Research begins with a question that needs an answer.  Researchers then design a study to test the problem and learn information; sometimes they get the answer they expected, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they learn something completely different which might spark a whole new question!

What are some examples of research questions?

  • Does this new drug work better than what doctors use now?

  • Can a vaccine prevent this disease?

  • Do medicines work differently in different people?

  • Can mindfulness help improve the quality of life of cancer patients?

  • How do our communities impact our health?

  • What causes a disease?

  • What happens in our brains when we sleep?

How do researchers choose what to study?

Sometimes what researchers choose to study can be very personal. For example, they might want to find a way to help a family member who has diabetes or cancer. Other times, they might be interested in studying a little-known disease that only affects a few people. Some researchers want to find out about how people live their lives within their communities to help improve everyday health and lifestyle.

Once researchers decide on the type of study they want to do, they will write up a detailed plan to get information that can help them answer their question.  Sometimes it takes many research studies to answer a question or to answer different pieces of a bigger question.  Sometimes, we don’t get the answer we expected, and that teaches us something new too!

Types of Studies

Is it research?

All of the studies listed on this site are research studies. A research study is a scientific way of learning more about nature, humans, and disease. Many research studies are looking to partner with participants learn more about specific topics.  It is always 100% up to you to decide if you want to participate in a research study.   

Medical care is what you receive normally at your doctor’s office or from another caregiver to treat a health condition.  It is different from research.  You can still receive medical care from a physician if you do not participate in research. 

Did you know?

When a research study is about disease or human health, it is called a clinical research study. 

When a research study involves drugs or other therapies that aim to slow or stop a disease, then it is called a clinical trial

There are different ways to design how a research study will be done.  Studies can be pretty basic or very complex.  Basic studies may only need people to answer questions, fill out diaries or even play computer games. Complex studies may ask volunteers use a device that has never been tested before or to stay in the hospital while they take a certain medicine. All studies are guided by the same basic goal: to understand and improve human health, wellbeing, and knowledge.

Here are some different kinds of studies that you might find on Research For Me @UNC.  Volunteers are an important part of all of these research studies!

Survey

Survey studies ask people questions about their knowledge, attitudes and feelings about a wide range of topics. You can complete these surveys online, over the phone, or by mail. Sometimes, these studies might also be in-person interviews or group discussions.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle studies look at what happens when people participate in different types of activities over a set period of time. You may attend activity sessions in a center or clinic or be asked to change the way that you do something in your daily activities. Often, these studies are interested in how changes in behavior can affect our health or other parts of our lives.

Drug

Drug studies are heavily regulated by the US Government. Studies often involve medications that are not currently available to the general public. They are called “investigational” drugs and have not yet been approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for your normal health care provider to prescribe. Other drug studies may involve comparisons between two or more FDA-approved medications.

Device

Device studies are done to learn if a new medical device helps relieve a certain medical condition. Devices you may be familiar with are pacemakers, diabetes testing meters, and hearing aids. These studies usually involve devices that are not currently available to the general public and have not been approved for use by the FDA. Sometimes, they may be studying an FDA-approved device, but for use treating a new condition. 

Procedure

Procedure studies learn about the safety and effectiveness of certain medical procedures. Sometimes they compare a new medical procedure to one already in use. Procedures might include things like imaging (x-rays), stitches, blood tests, and surgeries.

Medical Outcomes

Outcomes research studies the end results (outcomes) of the structure and processes of the health care system on the health and well-being of patients and populations. These studies look at clinical practices to see if there are better ways for doctors to help patients manage their medical care. Outcomes research often considers patients’ experiences, preferences, and values – all of which may affect whether or not a medical treatment is best for them. 

Community-based

Community-based research is done through a true partnership of community leaders and organizations with a UNC researcher or research team. The ideas are driven by community members and the research incorporates voices of all involved.  These studies aim to understand problems impacting communities and contribute to solutions through policy or social change. 

  • Survey

    Survey studies ask people questions about their knowledge, attitudes and feelings about a wide range of topics. You can complete these surveys online, over the phone, or by mail. Sometimes, these studies might also be in-person interviews or group discussions.

  • Lifestyle

    Lifestyle studies look at what happens when people participate in different types of activities over a set period of time. You may attend activity sessions in a center or clinic or be asked to change the way that you do something in your daily activities. Often, these studies are interested in how changes in behavior can affect our health or other parts of our lives.

  • Drug

    Drug studies are heavily regulated by the US Government. Studies often involve medications that are not currently available to the general public. They are called “investigational” drugs and have not yet been approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) for your normal health care provider to prescribe. Other drug studies may involve comparisons between two or more FDA-approved medications.

  • Device

    Device studies are done to learn if a new medical device helps relieve a certain medical condition. Devices you may be familiar with are pacemakers, diabetes testing meters, and hearing aids. These studies usually involve devices that are not currently available to the general public and have not been approved for use by the FDA. Sometimes, they may be studying an FDA-approved device, but for use treating a new condition. 

  • Procedure

    Procedure studies learn about the safety and effectiveness of certain medical procedures. Sometimes they compare a new medical procedure to one already in use. Procedures might include things like imaging (x-rays), stitches, blood tests, and surgeries.

  • Medical Outcomes

    Outcomes research studies the end results (outcomes) of the structure and processes of the health care system on the health and well-being of patients and populations. These studies look at clinical practices to see if there are better ways for doctors to help patients manage their medical care. Outcomes research often considers patients’ experiences, preferences, and values – all of which may affect whether or not a medical treatment is best for them. 

  • Community-based

    Community-based research is done through a true partnership of community leaders and organizations with a UNC researcher or research team. The ideas are driven by community members and the research incorporates voices of all involved.  These studies aim to understand problems impacting communities and contribute to solutions through policy or social change. 

Is Research for Me?


Anybody can participate in research!  As researchers, we are so grateful to our volunteers for sharing their time to discover new knowledge and uncover solutions to problems. 

There are many different reasons to participate in a research study.  You may have a disease or condition and be seeking alternative treatment.  You may want to help scientists answer research questions for the benefit of others.  Regardless of your motivation, it is important to take the time to consider the risks and benefits of participating. Discuss your decision with your loved ones, your doctor, and the research team.  Be an informed participant!

Participation in a research study could be as simple as taking a 5-minute online survey or it could be as complex as taking a brand new medication that is still being tested – there are also studies for everything in between.  Here at Research for Me @UNC, there is something for everyone, no matter who you are, how much time you have, what your motivation, or what you are interested in doing

Book cover of Sofia Learns about Research. A cartoon Sofia is pictured with her brother, Michael playing outside. They are standing in front of a drawing of lungs.

For Parents and Kids

"Sofia Learns About Research" is an interactive activity ebook to help children learn about participating in research. Sofia has asthma, and when her doctor tells her about a study that could help doctors learn more about her condition, she thinks about taking part in a clinical trial. Use this resource to help children learn more about what participating in research is all about!

"Sofia Learns About Research" is available in English, Spanish, and Arabic. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I get paid to be in a research study?

It depends!  There are different incentives for different studies.  Some studies are longer and require many visits, so they may have a larger incentive.  Sometimes, the incentive isn’t money.  For example, an exercise study might involve free personal training. Other studies, like short online surveys, don’t always offer an incentive, but researchers are always grateful for the volunteers that participate.

Will my information be private?

All of the information researchers collect from you during a study is kept confidential.  Usually, researchers will assign you an ID number at the beginning of the study and use this on all documents, data, and specimens, instead of your personal information.  This means anything from your name to your medical information is protected. Only certain members of the study team can view it. 

What is a Healthy Volunteer?

 Researchers need volunteers who are generally healthy to compare with persons who have a condition or disease. The healthy volunteers who don’t have the condition or disease receive the same treatment as people who do have it. Volunteers are often paid for their participation. If you are in generally good health, you may qualify as a volunteer for one of these studies.

What happens if the medication I am taking for a study makes me sick?

Study doctors closely monitor the health of research participants through labs and other tests.  They look at all the data from all the participants to make sure that the drug isn’t causing any unexpected issues.  If you have a problem with the medication, the study doctor may choose to end your participation to keep you safe.

I’m in a clinical trial for a new drug. How will I know if I am getting the drug or the placebo?

You won’t! Placebo is an important part of drug research that lets researchers test if the drug is more helpful than nothing at all.  In order for the test to work, the participant can’t know what they’re getting.  Sometimes, you might know the answer at the end of the study.  Even if you get the placebo, your participation is so important to helping researchers find new and better treatments for diseases.

Have a question you don't see here?


Glossary

You may see these terms throughout our site and in study listings. 

Clinical Trial

A research study in which one or more human subjects are assigned to one or more interventions to evaluate the effects of those interventions on health-related outcomes

Enrollment

The point at which a participant enters a clinical trial, after giving informed consent.

Healthy Volunteer

A person with no known significant health problems who participates in a study to test a new drug, device, or intervention.

Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

Inclusion criteria are factors that allow someone to participate in a clinical trial.  Exclusion criteria are factors that do not allow participation.  For example, the inclusion criteria for a certain study may be an age range of 18-55.  A 20-year-old would meet that inclusion criteria.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

A group of doctors, scientists, advocates, and community members that is formally assigned with reviewing and monitoring all research involving humans.  This is also called an independent ethics committee or research ethics board.

Informed Consent

This is a process that gives an overview of the study and explains potential risks and benefits of the study before someone decides whether or not to participate.

Placebo

A placebo is something (often a pill) that looks or seems just like the new treatment being tested, but it does not have any treatment effect.  This is an important way to test if the actual treatment works better than no treatment at all.

Protocol

A protocol is a comprehensive plan designed by the researcher to answer specific research questions. 

Principal Investigator

A researcher (often a doctor) who leads the research team and regularly monitors participants’ health and progress to determine whether the study is safe and effective.

Randomization

A process by which two or more different treatments are assigned to volunteers by chance rather than by choice.  Researchers do not have any control over who gets which treatment.  Often, researchers and participants do not even know which treatment is assigned!  This is called double-blind randomization.

What to Expect

Making an informed decision

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What kind of research participation is right for me and my loved ones?
  • Why am I participating
  • Do I have time?
  • Do I really understand what I’m being asked to do?
  • Am I comfortable with what I’m being asked to do?

Look through the different kinds of studies and think about how participating For example, are you willing to change your behavior for a study? Are you comfortable with taking a new medication?  Do you want to fill out surveys about your eating habits?  By looking through the studies on this site, you may get a better idea of what is right for you.

Remember, participating in research is completely voluntary!  Your decision to participate will not affect your right to your usual medical care.

I want to participate! What’s Next?

How to use this website

  • Search your interests
  • Find a study
  • Make sure it’s a good fit
  • Click “I’m Interested”
  • Wait for the study team to contact you 

What happens during a research study?

  • Study team contacts you with more information and to ask questions
  • You can ask questions too and decide if you are still interested
  • Schedule your first visit
  • Informed Consent
  • Participate!

Participating in research is your decision.  It is completely voluntary and you can change your mind any time.  Are you ready to explore research at UNC?

Questions to Ask the Researcher

You can ask a member of the research team questions at any point in the study.  You have the right to be informed! Here are some good questions to ask when you are considering participating.  You can bring these with you to your first study visit.

  • What is the purpose of this study?

  • What will I be asked to do?

  • How will my information be kept private?

  • How long will the study last?

  • What are the incentives for being in the study?

  • Who can I contact if I have questions?

  • What happens if I no longer want to be in the study?

Safety and Protection

Choosing to volunteer for a research study is an important decision. There are risks and benefits to every study.  Being informed can help you make the decision that is best for you.  Before you decide to participate, you should understand the rights and protections you have as a volunteer.

The Research Code of Ethics

Researchers are trained in a code of ethics inspired in part by an important document called the Belmont Report. The Belmont Report was published in 1979, partly as a response to ethical mistakes in the Tuskegee Syphilis Trial.  It establishes 3 ethical principles for research involving human volunteers:

  • Respect for persons: People should enter research voluntarily and with information!
  • Beneficence: Do no harm, maximize benefits, and minimize risks to participants
  • Justice: All persons should be treated equally, and research should not primarily benefit or burden people based on race, gender, ability to pay, or other factors.

All researchers must make sure that their studies are designed with these principles in mind.  Before a study even begins, it must pass very strict assessment by a committee called an Institutional Review Board (IRB). This committee can be made up of scientists, community members, and even faith leaders. The IRB makes sure that the rights of participants are protected by assessing all the plans and documents for the study. 

Learning from History

Throughout history, there have been many abuses and mistakes in medical research.  There are many cases where medical research was conducted at the expense of people in racial minority groups or in vulnerable groups like children, the poor, or prisoners. Today, many federal laws and international guidelines have been written to protect participants from these abuses and to make sure that research is conducted ethically, fairly, and respectfully.

Case Study: Henrietta Lacks

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital with a complaint of vaginal bleeding. Upon examination, the doctor discovered she had a malignant tumor on her cervix.  The cells from her biopsy were sent to Dr. George Gey’s lab, where he had been collecting cells from cervical cancer patients. To his surprise, these cells did not die like the other samples he had—but instead multiplied! These cells are still used today to study the effects of all kinds of drugs, therapies, and toxins on cancer cells and have played a crucial role in research.

What went wrong?

At the time that Henrietta Lacks sought treatment, there were no regulated practices for getting informed consent from patients.  She was not aware that her tissue would be taken and used for research. Researchers should have told Henrietta Lacks about their intentions with her tissue sample and made sure that she agreed.

Today, federal law requires that researchers obtain informed consent in order to use your samples for research. The Henrietta Lacks case raised important concerns about consent, privacy, and the responsibility of researchers to communicate with participants. 

Researchers at UNC are committed to earning the respect and trust of the local and global community. That means making sure that we inform you, the participant, about every part of the research process and your rights.  We work to protect your information and your privacy.  Learn more by reading our Participant Bill of Rights.

Participant Bill of Rights

As a research volunteer, you have rights that are protected by federal law and international guidelines.  You can always ask the study team to clarify questions you may have. If you have any concerns about your rights in a study, you can contact the IRB and Office of Human Research Ethics.

  1. To be told the purpose of the study.
  2. To be told what will happen to you if you take part in the study and whether any procedures, drugs, or devices are different than those that are used in standard medical treatment.
  3. To be told about all the risks, side effects, or discomforts of the things that will happen to you for research purposes.
  4. To be told if you can expect any benefit from participating, and if so, what the benefit might be.
  5. To be told about all options available to you and how they are better or worse than being in a research study.
  6. To be allowed to ask any questions about the study before signing the consent and/or at any time during the course of the study.
  7. To be allowed ample time, without pressure, to decide whether or not to consent to participate.
  8. To be assured that study records will remain confidential to the extent allowed by law.
  9. To be told what compensation you will receive and what charges you will pay.
  10. To be told what sort of medical treatment is available if any complications arise.
  11. To be told about any new findings that may affect your willingness to continue participating in the study.
  12. To refuse to participate or to change your mind about participating at any time during the study, even after the study has started, without penalty.
  13. To receive a signed and dated copy of the Informed Consent Form.
  14. Studies have a set expiration date. No research can be conducted after this date without further review and approval by the IRB.
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