What is the IRB? The Ethics of Performing Research With Human Participants

At the University of West Georgia, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is the committee responsible for reviewing research proposals and ensuring that any study on campus is complying with ethical considerations. For UWG students that are currently involved in research, the process of doing research with human participants involves planning and care to ensure that ethical boundaries are not crossed. Researchers looking to perform any study on campus involving people must contact IRB.

Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore, Professor of Psychology at UWG, said that human participants should be valued and respected in any research study.

“People are freely giving their time to volunteer and participate in research,” said Simmonds-Moore. “It is really important to work with a faculty advisor if you are doing student research and learning about ethics. Research at UWG should be reviewed by the IRB who ensure that the research has overall value and that there are more benefits for the person/society/knowledge than there are potential problems.”

There are many potential ethical concerns about using people in studies, even if it is just a simple research survey. The goal is to protect participants’ privacy, fully inform them of what to expect in the study and prevent additional harm.

“Human participants should be fully informed with regard to what to expect if they choose to opt in to take part in a study [for interviews and experiments as well as surveys],” said Simmonds-Moore. “In general, people taking part in research should not experience additional harm or distress by taking part and they should have the right to withdraw from the study at any time [even in a survey – for example, it may be upsetting or triggering for people who have experienced personal trauma to answer questions about that trauma in a survey] and this includes removing their data after they have taken part in a study.”

If students are performing this type of research and need to contact the IRB, working with a faculty advisor, either as an independent study or as part of a thesis or dissertation, will help to coordinate the process, according to Simmonds-Moore. Faculty members will assist students in completing and submitting IRB applications. All students and faculty who are involved in the project must take special ethics training to submit an IRB application. This is housed on the UWG ORSP site and is called CITI training

Once the IRB receives the application, they will evaluate the contents of the research study and decide whether it was designed effectively.

“I do not sit on the IRB but from my experience as a researcher the IRB are checking that the researchers have thought about the research from the perspective of the potential participants and not just about their goal of finding out information from the participants,” said Simmonds-Moore. “It is often the case that when you submit an IRB you get some initial feedback in terms of clarifying language, asking to see all materials that would be used in the study and making sure that all participants are being fully informed and being asked to sign a consent form, or other ways of giving consent, prior to taking part.”

            There is an array of research opportunities available to students on campus, whether it be through the honors college or independent research and faculty is encouraging students to get involved.

            “Research is fun,” said Simmonds-Moore. “It is a great way for you to contribute to the growing knowledge base. Try to get involved in research where you see opportunities arising.”

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