8 Things to Do to Breeze through Your IRB Process

8 Things to Do to Breeze through Your IRB Process

If you are conducting research with human subjects, you will most likely need to get the approval of your university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct your research. This is an important part of your research process and requires time and preparation, as well as attention to detail. Your IRB’s role is to make sure your study participants’ rights, welfare and privacy are being protected. If the board is not satisfied, they might ask for adjustments in your research proposal, or in some cases the reviewers could even decide to reject your study.

Here is a list of things to make your IRB process smoother and more likely to have a successful outcome:

  1. Get properly informed. The guidelines for IRBs vary among institutions, so get familiar with your university’s specific requirements as well as the application process. Also, you should first complete any necessary IRB trainings — the completion of these is often required before you can submit your application. Sometimes, the trainings are available online while others are offered through your research cluster.
  2. Allow enough time and be patient. Don’t expect your application to be reviewed within a day. If, for example, your study requires a full board review, the application process might take a lot longer (even months) and you should plan accordingly. Also, when dealing with the IRB liaison or a person who processes the application, be considerate and patient. It can prove beneficial to have this person on your side, as he or she can often help you with the intricacies of the process. Also, be wary of submitting too close to summer when reviewers will likely be in short supply.
  3. Be very detailed in your application. Take your time and make the application as detailed as possible, and do your best to address all the questions and concerns. Describe the recruitment process and data collection carefully and thoroughly. If you later need to change anything, you can always apply for an amendment. Also, include a thorough summary of your research project or a study overview (5-6 pages) that will give reviewers insight into the purpose and relevance of your study. Some boards might ask you to provide a short literature review and/or information about your proposed methodology.
  4. Apply data security measures. You need to demonstrate you are considering the sensitivity of the data you are planning to collect, including access to data. Certain security measures need to be put in place such as a strong password and encryption to prevent possible data breaches. If there are any risks, explain clearly how you will minimize these risks.
  5. Solicit advice from you peers. The IRB process can be laborious. It is likely you can find a confidante at your university who has successfully navigated the process, and his or her advice and feedback will likely prove extremely valuable as you journey through your own approval process.
  6. Include all necessary participant protection forms. Make sure you include all your participant protection forms such as informed consent forms, assent forms, anonymity assurance, etc. This step will show you are taking care of your participants’ safety and welfare to the best of your ability. Often, templates of forms are available and will save you some time compared to designing them from scratch yourself. If you are conducting a qualitative study, you should also add your interview protocol.
  7. Respond as quickly as possible. When you hear back from the IRB committee, respond as promptly as you can. If some amendments are requested, it’s best to do them sooner rather than later, so your study is still fresh in the committee member’s memory.
  8. Be thankful. When your application gets approved, it is courteous to express your gratitude to the people who were involved in the process, namely, the committee members and your IRB liaison (if you had one).