Most research involving people, like the research that we do here at the Center for the Study of Human Behavior, requires approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is an interdisciplinary university committee tasked with the review of research proposals to ensure the protection and ethical treatment of potential participants according to federal guidelines. In short, the IRB evaluates whether the benefits of the proposed research outweigh the potential risk to participants involved.
Governmental regulations outline the requirements for research involving human participants. CBU’s IRB provides the specific procedures in place to ensure that these requirements are met or exceeded.
It is important to remember that the IRB is not just another hoop to jump through before conducting your research. There are a number of examples of unethical research, examples such as the Nazi Medical War Crimes (1939–1945), the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1930s–1972), and the Human Radiation Experiments (1944–1974). In response to these gross ethical violations, a number of actions have been taken, such as the Nuremburg Code, the Belmont Report and the Common Rule. The principles outlined lay the foundation for our current IRB system with the hope that a properly functioning IRB/researcher relationship can avoid these atrocious outcomes.
Additionally, the IRB process can improve your research. A successful research application describes the following to a non-specialist:
- Links to previous research and theory
- Clearly articulated research questions and goals
- Specific methods of participant recruitment
- Process of gaining informed consent
- The process of collecting and protecting the data and participants’ identities
- Plans for analysis of the collected data to answer the research questions
- Intentions for dissemination
Addressing all of these components clearly requires a lot of forethought and planning! This improves the outcome of the research and decreases the likelihood of making a mistake in your research that can cost you lots of time, headaches and additional data collection/research projects to address that mistake.
The best place to start preparing your IRB application? By reading and understanding CBU’s IRB Handbook. The most recent version is available on InsideCBU. You can also complete your Protecting Human Research Participants (PHRP) training. Your certificate of completion (dated within the past 24 months) is required as part of your IRB application. Remember that application review takes time; researchers should submit their IRB applications at least 4 weeks before they hope to start their research project.
Faculty: Interested in conducting research in your class? Read this for a short discussion on the special considerations when conducting research with your students. Although geared toward research on teaching in psychology, the principles for IRB are relevant beyond that domain. Also, here is an excellent article on increasing the quality of course-based research, with a focus toward research on teaching.