Consider This: Why should the public get involved in research?

The research we do today influences the care we receive tomorrow. Although the thought of participating in a large research study might…

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The research we do today influences the care we receive tomorrow. Although the thought of participating in a large research study might sound intimidating, participation by the public is essential to ensuring that the results of our research reflect the population. When people think of clinical trials, or randomised controlled trials, they often think of big pharmaceutical "drug" trials. My first thoughts used to be: do I need to have a clinical disorder to participate? Does it really matter if I am one out of a thousand people in the study? During my graduate training, I have come to realize how important one person can be in any study! My work specifically focuses on healthy populations and relies heavily on involvement from the public.

The reason I think public involvement is so important in research is because the information about average individuals or the "general population" is often lacking. If we as scientists want to be able to generalize the results from our research to a broader population, then we need the public to participate in our research. One of the main populations I work with is women, who are extremely understudied. For years our medical knowledge was founded on research that focused primarily on healthy young men (University students for the most part). Yet, we are learning that women's physiology is so much different; we are not just "smaller men". For example, the risk of cardiovascular disease in women who are post-menopausal is higher than men of the same age. Women have been turned away from emergency departments after having a heart attack because their symptoms and responses are different from men's. My line of research focuses on physiology research for pregnant women, who have been excluded from research studies for years. As a result, we still know little about the physiology of healthy pregnant women.

Further, we cannot walk "down the hall" to find these participants, we need the public to engage in what we are doing. The value that this population adds to the research is that we have a representative population and our findings from our studies are more applicable to the entire healthy pregnant population. The same goes for other populations/ other lines of enquiry.

So, how do researchers in other areas expand their work to broader populations?

First, you have to have patience. It does take a bit longer to recruit people from outside of your social circle. We've had success in recruiting participants using our Facebook page and website, where we can give potential participants information relevant to them, highlight the results form our work, and post recruitment advertisements at a free-to-low cost. The second thing to remember is persistence. Participants do not fall out of the sky overnight, but one recruitment can turn into many just by word-of-mouth. And on that note, my last and maybe most important suggestion is give them a reason to tell their friends & come back. Here at the University of Alberta, we often do not pay participants to be in our studies but can offer a small token of appreciation (we give pregnant women diapers!). The best thing about research is getting to know your participants. I love hearing pregnant women's stories, sharing their milestones (sex reveals are my favorite), and meeting their infants once they are born.

How can the public get involved?

The Quad and other University newsletters, webpages, and social media pages often have sections where they post calls for volunteers. Here in Alberta, we have some great resources (e.g. www.bethecure.ca ) where you can find research to participate in. If you are a part of a specific population (e.g. an elementary school teacher), try searching online specifically for research applicable to that! There are a few faculties which recruit human participants more frequently (Kinesiology, Medicine, Education, Psychology), try going to their websites and see if any of the researchers are doing something that interest you and reach out! Me, I am going to continue to participate in as much research as I can (and tell my friends!) and keep working with these amazing women who come in from all corners of the city to be a part of our research!

Rachel Skow - PhD Student, Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation

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Rachel Skow is a third year PhD student working the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health research lab in the faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation. She is funded by CIHR to study the effects of exercise during pregnancy on blood pressure control.Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health research lab in the faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation. She is funded by CIHR to study the effects of exercise during pregnancy on blood pressure control.