Institutional Review Board: Faculty Supervising Student Research
In principle, all research conducted by University of Portland students is subject to oversight by the IRB. By this we mean that the IRB is charged with ensuring that all research involving human subjects is conducted in an ethical manner and in accordance with governmental regulations. In practice, however, a significant amount of student research activity does not require "direct" review and oversight by the IRB.
If you are a faculty/staff member of the University and are conducting research, please see Faculty conducting research page for information.
Two types of student research activities
The IRB understands that the majority of student research falls into the following two categories, only one of which requires IRB review.
It is the policy of the IRB that all student research requires supervision by a faculty member, but it is the second type of student research that may require IRB review above and beyond faculty supervision. See below for specific descriptions of each type of research.
Student research for which the overriding and primary purpose is learning the method and procedures of research is typically not subject to IRB review. A good example of this is research that is carried out by students as part of a research methods class. Such research is further characterized by minimal risk (or null risk) to human subjects and clearly falls within ethical guidelines of the greater institution.
The key factors to consider are the potential risks to subjects posed by the research activity itself, in terms of:
- Potential harm from subject participation in the study;
- Possibility of dissemination of confidential information;
- Whether the subjects are either unable to give consent or are subject to significant coercion or pressure to participate.
Classroom curriculum projects in which students conduct research involving human subjects need not be reviewed by the IRB if all three of the following conditions are satisfied:
- The project(s) involve minimal risk to subjects; and
- They do not involve vulnerable populations (e.g. prisoners, people under 18 years of age, pregnant women, persons with mental impairments, and other vulnerable groups); and
- Results will never be distributed outside the classroom and/or institutional setting. If there is even a remote chance that the data or the report/manuscript will be used in the future for a conference presentation, or a related research project, the research should go through IRB review. If the project is not subjected to a pre-data-collection IRB review, the data will most likely not be permissible for inclusion in a future presentation or research.
To illustrate, consider a student who undertakes an individual or class project that does not involve a vulnerable population and involves no risk to the subjects of the study. The student delivers a presentation on campus (e.g., Founder's Day presentation). This project would not require IRB review. However, if the results of this otherwise "no- or low-risk" project may/might be disseminated at a professional conference, submitted for publication, or published on the World Wide Web, governmental regulations would require prior review by IRB.
If the results of the student project will be published or otherwise distributed off campus, in any form of media, the project must be reviewed by the IRB.
If in doubt, it is wise to have the project reviewed or to ask a member of the IRB for specific advice before the project begins. The Board is unable to give post facto approval.
Even though some classroom-initiated research does not require review by the IRB, it is nevertheless important that instructors discuss the guidelines and ethics for the protection of research subjects with their students and incorporate these into their methodology. Particular emphasis should be placed on:
- Developing an awareness of the types of risk subjects may be exposed to in various types of research projects, i.e., psychological, social, physical, economic, and legal.
- Obtaining voluntary informed consent to participate in a way that honestly informs subjects of the purpose and potential risks and benefits of the research.
- Management of potential risks to subjects.
- A risk/benefit analysis for all populations, with special consideration of vulnerable populations (children, pregnant women, fetuses, mentally disabled, institutionalized persons, prisoners, etc.).
- Protection of privacy and confidentiality of the subjects.
- Identification of benefit to be derived from participation in the research.
Another core type of student research involves an academic project in which the primary and overriding purpose is to develop new knowledge and disseminate it. These kinds of project must be reviewed by the University of Portland IRB. For instance, supervised research to complete a thesis or independent study project will typically fall into this category. The result of the thesis or project may also reinforce lessons learned about how to conduct social research, but again, the main objective is to complete a project that stands as a contribution to physical or social scientific knowledge. If human subjects or participants are involved in any way, the project is subject to IRB review.
All student proposals must be sponsored by a faculty member. Although many faculty may wish to have their students prepare the IRB Request for Review Form and supplemental materials as a learning experience, the advisor (not the student) must initiate the IRB review by forwarding it to their IRB representative. By forwarding the form and supporting materials, the advisor indicates that he or she approves of the project as outlined.
The IRB makes every attempt to respond to requests for review within 10 to 14 days of submission. However, during particularly busy periods, additional time may be necessary. The IRB does review submissions during the summer and school holidays but may require additional time.
If a project raises particular issues that the IRB feels are not adequately addressed in the submitted materials, the researcher may be asked to submit additional information, clarify a point, or make revisions. To reduce delay, these changes are usually solicited electronically. However, on rare occasions, the researcher (and faculty supervisor, if appropriate) may be asked to appear before the IRB to resolve matters of procedure, etc.