How to succeed in life without really trying

Anna Maltby

It’s amazing what lengths a desperate college student will go to for money.

I’m living in New York this summer, doing an internship at Time for Kids, and have quickly discovered that $350 a week really isn’t that much when they take out $75 in taxes, and you’re living in the most expensive city on the continent while trying to pay for an apartment in Evanston and oh, you know, not starve.

So I’ve gotten creative. No, I haven’t resorted to harvesting my eggs (yet), but I have signed up for psychology studies. “Oh, like the ones in Intro to Psych” I said to myself when I saw the first flyer, smiling at the mere thought of Eli Finkel. The studies pay $10-20 each, and I figure at worst I’ll spend an hour taking surveys and won’t feel guilty going out to dinner the next night.

Little did I know, Columbia University’s psychology department apparently is considerably more Clockwork Orange-like than Northwestern’s. Take the study I did yesterday, for instance.

I get to the room where the study’s supposed to be, and a note on the door says, “Hi Anna, I’ll be here in about five minutes.” “Ok,” I think, and as 10 minutes go by, I start getting excited, assuming the study has something to do with patience, and they’re testing how long I’ll wait for the administrator before leaving or knocking on the door or something. A woman walks past the bench I’m sitting on, looks at me, and I smirk, thinking, “Confederate!” Man, I am good at psych. Plus it means that once the administrator shows up, I’ll get my $15 and will be free to go.

Ten more minutes pass, and the administrator shows up. She takes me through the winding corridors of the musty psych building and we arrive at the room where I’ll be doing the study. “Wrong,” I realize, feeling rather defeated.

She sits me down and proceeds to attach sticky electrodes to my fingers, wrist, ankle, neck – and EYE. Then she explains that I’ll be watching a few video clips accompanied by some noises – I should try to ignore them and just pay attention to the clips. I also need to not move a muscle, since the electrodes are very sensitive. “No problem,” I say. “Sounds good.”

Wrong again.

The “noises” turn out to be deafening recordings of gunshots, probably as close to real-life volume as the computer speakers could get. Now if there’s one thing I hate more than anything eye-related, it is definitely sudden loud noises. I have always been as skittish as a rabbit, and these babies are so loud, I feel like I’m actually being shot.

“BAM! – pause – BAM!! – pause – BAM!!!” They seem to get louder every time, and I jump farther out of my seat with each gunshot. “I didn’t see anything in the ‘Possible risks’ section of the consent form about heart attacks,” I think.

I just can’t take it anymore. Nearly in tears, I turn to the administrator and say, “I’m so sorry, but I don’t think I can do this.” (Good God, so embarrassing.) She says it’s okay and lets me go on to the gunshot-free section of the study. It’s a questionnaire mostly about confidence. My hurt pride circles “Partly agree” answers to statements such as, “I sometimes feel I am a complete failure” and “I certainly feel worthless at times.”

She takes my questionnaire, removes the electrodes (the one on my eye stretches my skin so hard it hurts; I make a mental note to get some kind of retinol cream at Duane Reade), and gives me my goddamn $15 as I shuffle abashedly out the door.

Now I just hope Time, Inc. doesn’t hunt me down after finding www.donateyoureggs.com in my Firefox history.

Reach Anna Maltby at [email protected]