Three years ago when I applied to Johns Hopkins I wrote in my application how important it was to me to find an institution that offered ample opportunities for undergraduate research, particularly in the humanities. While I knew partaking in research was something I wanted, I had little idea what it was I wanted to be investigating, or what was even involved in conducting research.
One aspect of the process I was completely ignorant of was the Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval needed for any research project conducted on the Hopkins campus. Just a few weeks ago I finally received approval for my Woodrow Wilson Fellowship project – I am currently in London and will be studying at the end of the summer how the 2012 Olympic Games effects citizens from the East and West sides of London differently.
Obtaining IRB approval was a long (and I will admit occasionally frustrating) process, but I feel it doesn’t have to be that way. I have decided to dedicate this blog to all the information I wish I had known a year ago – information that would have made my entire IRB experience much easier. So here it is: some background and advice on the important (but laborious) process that is obtaining IRB approval for your research project.
What is IRB approval?
- - Institutional review boards (IRB) are committees dedicated to approve and monitor research project involving human subjects
- - They ensure that the rights and welfare of participants in research projects are fully protected
- - In order to conduct research, you must submit an application to the Homewood IRB that explains in extreme detail what you will be doing
Why is it needed?
- - Starting in the nineteenth century, researchers began experimenting more and more using human subjects
- - Several incidents, including the Nuremberg Trials, the Thalidomide Tragedy and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which the rights of human research participants were completely violated made it obvious to the US government that federal laws were needed to protect human subjects and ensure their informed voluntary consent
- - So, in the second half of the twentieth century, America established rules and regulations about conducting research involving human participants – including the formation of international review boards
Who needs it?
- - If your project involves human participants and you are obtaining data through intervention or interaction with the individual or identifiable private information, then you need IRB approval
How do you get it?
- - The Homewood IRB application is now online, so you need to go to: ehirb.jhu.edu to begin your application
- - The application will involve listing your study title, sites, funding, purpose, design & methodology, procedures & activities, participants, recruitment material, compensations, risks, benefits, document storage, consent forms
- - You will also need to take a basic Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) course and receive certification
A few words of wisdom.
- - Start early. This is true especially if you are conducting research abroad. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- - Get a P.I. If you are a student, that means you need a faculty advisor. They will be the primary investigator (P.I.) on the project. You may have to meet with several different faculty members before you find one that is suited for your project and who you are comfortable with. My PI, Professor Judith Walkowitz, had been amazingly helpful through this whole process – providing invaluable insight and support during this process.
- - Make sure you’re passionate about your project. Working on this application made me realize not only how excited I am to begin my research, but also made me see how horrible this would be if I wasn’t so pumped about my project. The hardest part of this entire process I felt was chosing my subject focus, so take your time with that.
- - Be specific in your application. Don’t take short cuts on your first draft of your application. You better believe that your application will get sent back to you, detailing all the places you didn’t provide enough information. Although it might be a hassle in the beginning, it will definitely save you time in the long run. That way you can get right to the fun part – the actual research!