Every now and then, Student Life Studies’ staff gets asked, “Does this project need to go to the Institutional Review Board (IRB)? Every now and then, Student Life Studies’ staff says, “This project definitely needs to go to the IRB.” So, what exactly is the IRB and why would projects need their approval? Keep in mind that every campus has different processes and procedures, so Texas A&M is different than other institutions.
I’ll hit some of the basics, but to really understand the role of the IRB at Texas A&M, see https://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects. That website will describe the definitions, steps for approval, resources, and training requirements. The IRB is here to protect humans (living subjects) in the research process (a systematic investigation resulting in generalizable knowledge). In research, the investigator gathers identifiable data about people through some sort of intervention or interaction. But, not every data collection activity requires IRB approval. In many cases in the Division of Student Affairs, assessment is completed to improve a specific program or improve student learning in a particular activity. Those data collection functions, although inherently involving interacting with humans, do not have the purpose to create new, generalized knowledge. Alternatively, there are topics/people that Student Life Studies would recommend IRB review. Those typically include sensitive topics or groups (alcohol/drugs, illegal activity, sexual activity, sexual misconduct, minors, cognitively impaired adults, pregnant women, prisoners, etc.) or cases when you know you want to publish the results. I hope you can see where there might be overlap or questions between program improvement data collection and human subjects research.
The IRB offers/requires training for any investigator. If you are just collecting some feedback about your program to make changes for next year, you might think you don’t need to take the IRB training. But, the training provides good information about the ethics of data collection, regardless of whether you are conducting actual research. Texas A&M uses the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) as the online training system. The nice thing is that the training is good for five years before you have to do a refresher course. The course can be accessed at https://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/signing-up-for-human-subject-protection-training-in-citi-1. Although not the most exciting of professional development options, it is still important to student affairs staff who collect any data.
If you need to submit a proposal to the IRB, there are several steps to complete and questions needing answered. This page, https://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/step-2-what-to-submit, provides an overview of the documents that you will need. To understand the questions on the application, see the Socio-Behavioral Protocol Template at https://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/forms/templates. When you are ready to submit, you log into the iRIS portal at https://iris.tamu.edu/shibboleth-ds/index.html. The instructions at https://rcb.tamu.edu/humansubjects/step-3-how-to-submit walk you through the process. The questions can be confusing because of some of the jargon, so feel free to reach out to the IRB hotline at 845-4969 or the general office number, 458-4067, to find the Division of Student Affairs liaison.
I hope this information gave you an introduction to the IRB with resources you can access for more detail. Feel free to reach out to Student Life Studies for assistance as well. We are always here to help.
*The overview provided here is very simplified. Please refer to the IRB or Student Life Studies for more specific information.