What do a professor who studies alcoholics with relationship problems, a graduate student researching her master’s thesis by observing freshman study habits, and a professor researching the affects of stress on skin have in common?
All three must submit their research plans to the university’s Institutional Review Board.
In 1974, Congress passed the National Research Act as a means of protecting people from being participants in unethical research projects. By 1981, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established a set of guidelines and requirements for ethical human subject research. UTPA currently has an agreement with DHHS that defines how and by whom human subjects research must be reviewed.
The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is currently chaired by Dr. Grant Benham (Psychology and Anthropology) with the able support of Raquel Rivera of the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, and is composed of faculty, staff and community members.
A lot of research involves human subjects – the vast majority of which is benign. Federal law takes that into consideration and allows exemptions from a full review by the entire committee, but researchers must still submit their plans. Using Federal guidelines, Dr. Benham exempts or expedites low risk research plans but convenes the entire board if the guidelines indicate a full examination is required.
To the casual observer, the IRB might seem just another hurdle to overcome in the bureaucratic world of academe, but in reality, the requirement for safeguards came about because of abuses that came to light during the late twentieth century. (Wikipedia has an excellent summary of such cases.) The Board’s primary goal is to safeguard human beings but it also functions to protect the reputation of the university and faculty. To ensure different perspectives are examined, the board includes members of the community.
The IRB Committee includes a diverse group of faculty members, university staff members and members of the community at large. Left to right, Dr. Joanne Rampersad-Ammons, Dr. Ken Grant, Mr. Richard Trevino, Dr. Grant Benham, Ms. Raquel Rivera, Dr. Marie Simonsson, and Dr. Sandra Hansmann discuss a proposal during a recent meeting.
Yes, there is some paperwork involved in obtaining IRB approval, but it is all quite simple. Training sessions for faculty and staff are presented regularly by Dr. Benham and Ms. Rivera. These sessions allow researchers to ask questions directly about their own projects.
More information is available on the IRB’s page within the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects site. In many instances, granting agencies don’t always need IRB approval for a research project at the time of submission but will require approval prior to releasing funds.
As always, the staff of the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects is available to answer questions and assist in any way. Contact Raquel Rivera at email@example.com or call (956) 665-3002.