IRB Guidelines - Information for Students and Their Advisors

Research involving human subjects conducted by students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) is subject to the same policies and procedures as those for faculty members. If you will be carrying out systematic research leading to a thesis, field study reports, or a dissertation, and plan to interact with human subjects, or you will be utilizing private information about individuals, you will likely require IRB approval BEFORE the research begins. See Undergraduate Research and IRB Approval for undergraduate research information.

University policy specifies that all researchers involving human subjects must be approved by a review board. Projects with external funding (grants, fellowships from an outside sponsor) must be reviewed by the campus Institutional Review Board (IRB). Unsponsored research may be reviewed by a local review board where applicable. Where a local board is not available, the campus IRB will review the project.

Review by a review board should take place if you answer yes to both the questions below:

1. Is your study a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to the body of generalizable knowledge? If yes, then your study is defined as research.

2. Will you obtain data through investigation or interaction with one or more living individuals, or will you obtain any identifiable private information about a living individual? If yes, then you are using human subjects.

If you answered yes to these questions, IRB review must be initiated before any research or recruitment of subjects is initiated. See Levels of Review for additional information. You and your advisor will also be required to complete an on-line training program.

The IRB review process for funded research begins when you obtain protocol submission materials from the Human Research Protection Office (HRPO). The materials contain all the forms and instructions that you need for an IRB application. Read the instructions carefully and complete the application. When your application is complete and has been submitted to the IRB office, the IRB review process will be initiated. IRB review consists of an administrative review by IRB staff members and a systematic review by some or all Board members as appropriate to the nature of the research. You will be notified in writing by the IRB Chair or Human Protection Administrator (HPA) when your study has been approved, and afterwards, you may begin your study. IRB review can take up to four weeks. Please plan accordingly.

Note: Classroom assignments are not intended to contribute to generalizable knowledge and do not meet the federal definition of "research" and therefore are not under the purview of the IRB. It is very important to note, however, all classroom assignments must be conducted in accordance with the UMass honor code and all applicable UMass guidance, policies, and procedures. Classroom instructors are ultimately responsible for ensuring the ethical treatment of classroom participants, such as ensuring participant privacy, voluntary consent, and that all participants are treated with respect and dignity. Instructors who have questions about whether classroom projects might violate ethical guidelines should contact the HRPO for advice.

See Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information or call the Human Research Protection Office (HRPO) at 545-3428.