What is this study all about?

One of the things that researchers here at VCU are interested in is what factors contribute to how well students do during their college years and beyond. As you are well aware, starting college is a major milestone, associated with a lot of big life transitions. For many of you, this will be an exciting time filled with new opportunities. Yet, the college years are harder for some students. For some individuals, this period can be a high risk time for the development of problems associated with alcohol use, use of other substances, and emotional health. We want to understand what factors contribute to these outcomes so that we can ultimately use this information to improve the quality of life for our VCU students. This project is an opportunity for students at VCU to work together with some of the leading researchers in the world to try to understand and prevent these important and widespread problems.

Why participate?

Research is a critical component of all major universities. Spit for Science: The VCU Student Survey is an opportunity for VCU students to be a part of the research process. All first time freshmen 18 years of age or older will be invited to participate; students under the age of 18 will be eligible to participate when they turn 18. To make this study a success, we hope as many students as possible will participate – we want our study to be representative of VCU's diverse student body. The project will allow us to understand what kinds of things contribute to alcohol use, use of other substances, and emotional health. In addition, we hope to use the findings from the project to feed back into programming at VCU to benefit our VCU students and community. However, participation in the study is completely voluntary.

What does the study involve?

The week before Welcome Week all eligible first time freshmen will receive an e-mail through their VCU e-mail account inviting them to participate in the project. This e-mail will contain a link that will take you to an online survey. The survey asks questions about your personality and behavior, as well as your family, friends, and experiences growing up. It will take approximately 15-30 minutes to complete. You will receive $10 cash for your completion of this survey. The second part of the study is a DNA component (explained further below). At the time that you collect your compensation for completing the survey, you will have the opportunity to provide a DNA (saliva) sample. If you choose to participate in this part of the study, you will receive another $10. If you choose to participate, you will be contacted by Spit for Science in the future to see if you’d like to complete follow-up surveys, for which you can receive another $10 each time if you choose to participate. In addition, the data you provide may be used to select students to invite them to participate in future studies. You can decline participation in any of these future invitations and/or choose to withdraw from the Spit for Science project at any time. All data that we collect is kept completely confidential. More details about each component of the study will be found in consent forms that you will be given before you complete each part of the study.

Why do you want a DNA sample?

We know that environmental risk factors are only part of the story in understanding why people differ. Individual susceptibility also plays a big role. In the same way that some people are more likely than others to have a heart attack if they eat unhealthy foods and don't exercise, we also know that some people are more likely than others to develop problems associated with alcohol or to become depressed during a particularly stressful period. In order to fully understand risk, we need to understand how individual vulnerability interacts with environmental experiences to contribute to various health-related outcomes. This is why it is critical that, in addition to collecting information about environmental risks, we also study individual genetic predispositions. We aim to understand how genetic variation, in conjunction with environmental factors, contributes to differences in the use of alcohol, the use of other substances, and emotional health.

How do you collect the DNA sample?

DNA is collected through a saliva sample. This only takes a few minutes. The container is labeled with a number and transported to a research laboratory here at VCU. No one at the laboratory will ever have the names of the participants in the project; so, the genetic information will never be connected to you. In this way, your genetic information is kept completely confidential. We are able to connect the survey responses to the DNA samples only through randomly assigned code numbers; the DNA is never connected to individuals' names or other identifying information. Read the FAQs About DNA Sampling for more answers to frequently asked questions about DNA sampling.

Will I get any feedback from the study?

Because identifying information is kept confidential and not released to the researchers who are analyzing the data, you will not receive any individual feedback from either the survey or DNA portion of the project. Instead, the researchers will periodically send out newsletters to update you on findings that come out of the project. These will never be linked to individual people or have identifying information included in them. Rather, they will provide general overviews of findings from the project.

What's in it for me?

We hope that participating in the Spit for Science project will give students a better understanding of the research process. We also hope the project will raise awareness about issues related to the use of alcohol, the use of other substances, and emotional health, as well as the importance of genetic and environmental influences on behavior. We hope you will find it fun to be a part of this unique opportunity for your class and to learn more about the characteristics and behaviors of your class. The findings will also be used to inform programming available at VCU to help improve the experience of students. You will be compensated for taking the time to participate in the project in the form of a $10 cash payment for the survey and another $10 in cash for the DNA collection portion of the study ($20 total for approximately 1 hour of your time if you choose to participate in both parts of the study).