Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.
Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.
Occupation: Human Test Subject
Overview: A human test subject is someone who agrees to be part of an experiment that either involves a clinical trial (taking drugs, vaccines, supplements, or having a medical device used) to see what the effects are, or they offer biological contributions (blood, saliva, sperm, urine, skin cells, dandruff, or whatever is being tested) or have dermatological studies of their conditions. The test subject may part of a social science experiment to analyze behavior. In these studies they may be asked specific questions, asked to perform specific cognitive tasks, or be exposed to different conditions that can alter the test subject’s physical, mental, and emotional state. In any study, the participant might be part of the test group or the control group, and they usually do not know which.
Test subjects may be chosen for specific reasons (they have a specific type of cancer, they suffered frontal lobe damage after an accident, they experience a specific phenomena like synesthesia, etc.), or they may not, depending on what is being tested. They may be asked to adhere to specific routines (exercise routines, sleep routines, etc.), dietary changes, and abstain from taking any medication, supplements, or mood enhancers for the duration of the trial.This is especially important for clinical trials as researchers must be able to see cause and effect clearly when it comes to treatments or drugs, understand the effects and the side effects to better determine risk factors.
A character wishing to be a test subject would have to provide consent to be part of the study. They exchange money for their participation, and are highly regulated to prevent unethical experimentation. There are risks to this job–if something goes wrong (a painful side effect, an addiction) the private companies may pay for some medical help, but often not enough for what is needed, and there’s no compensation for time lost at work, ongoing pain or long term symptoms.
Other (safer types) of test subject gigs would be to fill out surveys, participate in panel discussion for market research, test toys or other products, or even participate in mock trials.
No training necessary, but one must fit the perimeters of the study. If the group is not random selection, the character might need to be within a specific high and weight range, be in good overall health, abstain from alcohol and other enhancements, and often be free of drugs and supplements (even over the counter ones) for a month before the trial begins.
Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: charm, exceptional memory, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, multitasking, reading people
Helpful Character Traits: ADAPTABLE, ADVENTUROUS, CALM, COOPERATIVE, CURIOUS, DISCIPLINED, EASYGOING, FOCUSED, HONEST, OBEDIENT, OBSERVANT, PATIENT, SIMPLE, SOCIALLY AWARE, UNINHIBITED
Sources of Friction: Being asked to do things within the trial that are uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing, growing bored at repetitive tasks or long hours put in at the lab performing tasks and answering questions, being in a test group with people one doesn’t like or get along with, experiencing symptoms that may or may not be normal but they impact one’s life (a sudden loss of libido, headaches, craving certain things, having to urinate much more often, etc.); feeling manipulated be researchers, suffering a side effect or reaction that requires medical care and getting the runaround to avoid responsibility
People They Might Interact With: other test subjects, researchers, administrative staff, psychologists, doctors, dieticians, medical students
How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:
- Safety and Security: some tests (especially clinical trials) could have lasting negative effects that may not show up for years or even decades and the character would have no recourse.
- Love and Belonging: Family members and close friends would likely not understand nor support the character’s choice to be a test subject, creating a lot of friction within one’s relationship as pressure to stop wound be constant.
- Esteem and Recognition: A character who chooses to go down this road may not have sufficient regard for their own health, indicating some self-esteem issues. Or, if the character is only thinking of the quick money and not the full possible repercussions, the character may experience a self-esteem crisis down the road if they experience regret when it sinks in that they took foolhardy risks when they shouldn’t have, leading to questions of self-worth as dis-empowering beliefs take hold.
- Self-Actualization: If there is a lasting side effect as a result of the testing that disrupts a skill or ability, it may keep them from achieving a specific type of meaningful goal, leaving them feeling cheated.
Common Work-Related Settings: a laboratory, a bathroom, medical areas for drawing blood, change rooms, study rooms, waiting rooms