As a faculty sponsor, your influence with an undergraduate or graduate researcher is invaluable. The Board asks that you carefully review your student’s research and provide him or her with practical guidance on how to use participants in the study. In addition, recommend that your student contact our Student Support Specialist, Laura Loeb; she can work with the student to help them navigate the IRB-SBS protocol and review process as well as provide guidance about how to put together the study with IRB compliance in mind. The Board looks forward to working with you and your student and supporting your student in this important part of their academic experience.
For many students, their research studies are their first attempt at conducting a full study and submitting to the IRB. Thus, the Board feels that the benefit of these studies is to train future researchers and that the information gathered may not be beneficial to the scientific community (although there are exceptions). Because the benefit to risk ratio is low, the Board asks that the risks in a student’s study be minimized. Please take a moment with your student and review the research protocol. Help the student to analyze the data collection procedures and assess if there are risks to the participants in the study.
First-time student researchers often have big ideas about what they would like to accomplish with their studies. It is not uncommon for the Board to receive student research protocols that are more complicated than seasoned researchers’ proposals, and the likelihood of a student researcher completing such a project is small. Inexperienced student researchers with little or no training should take on research projects that are realistic for them and easily accomplished in the time available to them. The Board will take this into consideration when reviewing student submissions. Studies that are unlikely to yield valid results may lead to increased risks for participants, or, at a minimum, would waste valuable time for all involved.
Student researchers often have a limited amount of time to submit to the IRB, or they have an unrealistic expectation as to when their IRB approval will be returned. Complicated studies are difficult to review, may require full board review (the Board only meets twice per month, versus an expedited review which can be done at any time), and are more likely to need further review by the full board or be delayed with revisions. Studies that are minimaly risky are more likely to have a quicker review, allowing the student more time to work on their project instead of navigating an IRB review process.
In general, the Board would ask that you help your student researcher to develop a realistic study that the student can successfully complete and will be a good educational experience for the student. Please encourage your student to submit their IRB proposal as soon as possible instead of waiting until the last minute; we often have a large group of student researchers that submit in late April or May hoping to have their studies approved by the end of the semester, which can be unrealistic for our Board to process. We do not want to delay anyone’s project and so we ask that students submit early.
Student researchers, especially those that travel abroad, often ask to work with participants that the Board feels are vulnerable and/or risk-sensitive and would only allow experienced researchers to study. HIV patients, workers in sex trades, and victims of violence are not uncommon subjects for undergraduate research. The Board understands that often these student researchers volunteer to serve these individuals, which is a valuable experience for the student and client. However, documenting information about these individuals increases the probability of risk and the Board does not feel that most student researchers are experienced enough to handle sensitive situations. In most cases, the Board will ask student researchers to study the clients indirectly by collecting data from professionals that work with the clients. For example, in an HIV clinic, a student researcher could interview staff about their experiences working with HIV patients. In some cases, this may also be a safer option for the student as well. Although the Board does not protect researchers, some studies can put inexperienced researchers in dangerous situations.
Help your student to think more sensitively about the risks in the study and to address them adequately in the protocol. The Board wants to know that the student has thought through the possibilities for harm in the study and has outlined procedures for handling situations that may put a participant at risk. The Board understands that the student may not be able to predict every outcome, but they would like to see that the student has developed a sense of how to recognize and deal with situations that arise, including seeking advice from those who may be more experienced.
If you feel that your student is capable of working with a more vulnerable population, make sure that he or she provides information in the protocol about their background and expertise. The Board will also want to know about your expertise and will want assurance that the student will be supervised (either by you or an on-site supervisor). The Board and IRB-SBS staff wants to work with students to help them develop a protocol that allows them to have a valuable research experience while still protecting research participants. However, we can’t replace the value that a good faculty sponsor can be to a student researcher and we look forward to your assistance in this process as well.
The Board considers you to be the primary supervisor for the student researcher and expects that you will monitor your student’s progress. If you are unable to do so (because the student is traveling abroad or otherwise), make sure that the student has adequate supervision from an on-site advisor who is qualified for the position.