Became a lab rat
crazy college payments john campbell

Swallowing pills, getting blood drawn and being injected with IV drugs for the sake of scientific research is all worth it to John McKinley-Campbell, who is trying to save up enough money to apply for -- and hopefully attend -- a Ph.D. program.

McKinley-Campbell, 28, received a master's degree in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University last May and now dreams of getting his Ph.D. at Florida International University. But with $135,000 in student loan debt and no post-graduation job, he needed cash. So he started participating in paid medical studies to pay for a $1,800 GRE preparation course, the GRE test fee of $175 and the university's $100 application fee.

During his first medical study, he received $3,000 to stay at a pharmaceutical company's facility for 14 days in a room with seven other people. Each day he took arthritis pills, and every hour he provided blood and urine samples while researchers analyzed how effectively the medication was being absorbed into his bloodstream.

He is currently finishing up a study where he has been receiving a breast cancer medication through IV injections so that researchers can monitor how his heart reacts to it.

McKinley-Campbell said that while the medications he has taken have been almost identical to federally-approved versions and the pharmaceutical companies conducting the studies provide insurance to cover any complications due to the drugs, being a "lab rat" is scary.

"I take the pill and kind of hope I wake up in the morning," he said. "I was really nervous, but I'm hyper-vigilant so I did do a lot of research online before I signed up."

With two studies under his belt, he will have about $8,500 to put toward applying for school and paying part of his tuition and housing if he's accepted to the Ph.D. program. "Some people leave everything to pursue their dreams -- they take their cars out to L.A. and leave their friends and family behind, or they take all their life savings and invest in a business. And this is the same idea -- it's taking a risk to reach your dream."


- Last updated September 19 2012 03:05 PM ET
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