Institutional Review Board at UIC
Issues pertaining to the ethical conduct of research receive repeated attention throughout all of the College’s doctoral programs. One important ethical consideration has to do with the rights of human subjects who participate in our studies. Because this issue is so important, the University requires that all research involving human subjects be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the University. Operated by the Office of Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS), the IRB consists of three panels of faculty and community members. Every research study involving human subjects is reviewed by one of these panels, or in some cases, a subset of its members, in order to determine whether the study meets rigorous ethical standards. Depending on the degree of risk to subjects in the study, the research may require an initial review by the College of Education’s Departmental Review Committee (DRC).
Most students in the College of Education engage in dissertation and thesis research involving human subjects. Some also do research involving human subjects at other times during their graduate work, for example, in a course, an independent study, or a research project. In every instance of research involving human subjects, IRB approval is required prior to the commencement of the research and collection of data.
Before you submit an application and research protocol for IRB approval, you must first complete the University’s education requirement for investigators and key research personnel. You can satisfy this requirement either by taking an online course or by attending a special training session. After the initial training requirement is met, you must enroll in continuing education sessions in order to continue conducting human subject research (see the OPRS website for the current requirement). Dates for the initial and continuing education sessions are listed on the OPRS website. This site also includes other important information about IRB matters. It is a good idea to check it periodically to make sure that you are aware of any changes in requirements.
After you have completed IRB training, you may begin drafting your IRB application on the appropriate forms. It is important to begin the process of securing IRB approval well in advance of when you will need to start your research. IRB reviews take time to complete. Application forms are available on the OPRS website.
As a student at the university, you must have a faculty member who has fulfilled the education requirement for human subjects investigators agree to be your faculty sponsor for your research. For dissertation research, your sponsor is your dissertation chair. Your faculty sponsor will discuss with you the different categories of review and help you decide which is most appropriate for your research. All protocols must be accompanied by documents demonstrating how you, the researcher, will gain consent of subjects and how the confidentiality of subjects will be protected. Copies of recruitment materials and consent forms must accompany your application. There is a template for a consent form on the OPRS website. While you do not have to follow this template format exactly, your consent form must include the same information, in roughly the same order. Copies of all research instruments must also be submitted. If a formal research proposal exists that describes the research proposed in the protocol (e.g., a dissertation proposal or grant proposal), it must be included with your application. If there is no formal research proposal, it is necessary to include a short description (3-5 pages long) of the proposed research.
After you have your IRB protocol signed by your faculty sponsor and reviewed and signed by the Chair of your program, you have two possible routes to follow. If the research requires a full review, it must first be reviewed by the College of Education’s DRC. If the protocol requires other levels of review, that is, exempt or expedited, it may be sent directly to the Office for Protection of Research Subjects (OPRS) for review.
The DRC consists of faculty members from each department of the College. The DRC meets monthly to review protocols. It is important to submit your application before the deadline for that month’s review. You may obtain a schedule of DRC meeting dates from your advisor.
When you receive your approval letter from the IRB, a copy of the letter and the approved IRB application should be filed in the College of Education (3343 ETMSW) so that the College has a record of your approval. If you later submit any amendments to your application to the IRB (see below), a copy of the approved amendments and the letter approving them should be given to the College as well.
After you obtain IRB approval, you may begin your research. However, approval is good only for a maximum of one year. If your research extends beyond one year, even if you are only analyzing data from the study, you must receive approval from the IRB to continue. The form for continuing review is available on the OPRS website. If you change any aspect of your research methodology, you must file an amendment to your approved application. The form and instructions for submitting an amendment are also available at the OPRS website. It is critical that you obtain approval for any changes to an IRB protocol prior to enacting the changes. If, for example, you have not received approval for changes to your dissertation study, you will not be able to pass your dissertation defense. When you have completed your research, you need to complete a final continuing review form, marking it on the front as “final report,” to submit it to OPRS. This lets OPRS know that your research protocol is no longer current.
Students usually understand that IRB approval is necessary for dissertation research involving human subjects. However, they are sometimes unsure whether IRB approval is needed for inquiries they might conduct at other points in their programs, for example, in a course, an independent study, or a research project. Several courses you will take in your program will address this, and, of course, your faculty advisor can help you decide when IRB approval is necessary. As a general rule, if you undertake a project in order to acquire skills in research methodology, you do not need IRB approval. However, if the project involves human subjects and is more than training or learning to do research, and if you might present your findings at a local or national conference, publish them, or include them in your dissertation as pilot data, then you must obtain IRB approval.
In some cases, a student project or dissertation does not require IRB review, although a form (“Approval Form for Students Projects and Dissertations that Do Not Involve Research and/or Human Subjects as Defined by Federal Regulations”) must still be completed. IRB review is not required for research involving persons who are not considered “human subjects.” For example, your research may focus on persons who are no longer living. If the research does not require interaction with any living persons, it may fit this category. This category also includes research on living individuals if you do not personally interact with them and have no access to information that reveals their identity. If your research fits this category, you do not need IRB approval, but you do need to register your research. Consult the OPRS website for information on how to determine whether research meets the requirements for this category. IRB review is also not required if your work does not involve persons or human subjects, or is not considered research as defined by federal regulations.
If your research does not require IRB review, the required approval form is available in room 3343 ETMSW. The completed form must be signed by your faculty sponsor and returned to 3343 ETMSW. Before you begin your work, the form must be reviewed and approved by the DRC chair.
Learning about the ethics of doing research, including how to obtain IRB approval when appropriate, is an integral feature of the College’s doctoral programs. The DRC Chair will schedule appointments to address any questions you might have about the process.