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Faculty Supervising Student Research

It is the policy of the University of Portland that all student research requires supervision by a faculty member. In addition, all research conducted by University of Portland students that involves human subjects is subject to oversight by the IRB. The IRB is charged with ensuring that all research involving human subjects is conducted in an ethical manner and in accordance with government regulations. The IRB expects proposals of high quality, presented in a professional manner. Faculty supervisors are responsible for advising and educating student researchers about the IRB process and protocols and standards of research.

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 irb@up.edu. By forwarding the form and supporting materials, the advisor indicates that he or she approves of the project as outlined and has reviewed and approved any documents that will be distributed as meeting the standards of that discipline.

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.
  • Protection of privacy and confidentiality of the subjects. 
  • Identification of benefit to be derived from participation in the research. 

How to determine if a student research activity requires direct review by the IRB

The key factors to consider are the potential risks to subjects posed by the research activity itself, in terms of:

  1. Potential harm from subject participation in the study;
  2. Possibility of dissemination of confidential information; and
  3. The possibility that subjects are either unable to give consent or are subject to significant coercion or pressure to participate.

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.

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:

  1. The project(s) involve minimal risk to subjects;
  2. They do not involve vulnerable populations;
  3. Results will never be distributed outside the classroom and/or institutional setting.

If there is even a remote chance that the data, the report, or the manuscript will be used in the future for a conference presentation or a related research project, the research should go through IRB review. This includes dissemination on the Internet in any form. 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 project.

For example, 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 Internet, government 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.

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. The project may present more than minimal risk to research subjects or involve a vulnerable population. These types of projects 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 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.

If in doubt, contact irb@up.edu for advice before the project begins. The Board is unable to give post facto approval.