The Institutional-Review-Board (IRB) Process

This is the third time I am going through the IRB process (also known as Human Research Protection Program) since I started the doctoral program. I received my training and certificate two years ago when I was about to start the HRPP process for a study that was later deemed not to require one. The first two times I went through the process were incredibly time consuming and plain frustrating. The third time has been (the charm!) much faster and smoother as I have become very well versed with the language of the protocol. It also helps that the HRPP team at my university has been available, and I am currently working with someone who has been tremendously helpful. My advice to any researcher is to work with your HRPP team closely. Not through email, however; arrange a phone/Zoom call instead. Ask as many questions as you can think and involve them as soon as you begin the application process. And when in doubt about anything, err on the side of caution and verify with them.

I just submitted my application to Virginia Tech’s IRB office for the survey I am planning to distribute later this month. My survey is to collect data on travel behavior, preference, and perception of wheelchair users in relation to wheelchair accessibility of Uber and Lyft. My potential participants are at least 18 years old and there is no risk involved for anyone participating in the study. In order for my university to ascertain that, I have to answer many questions related to how I plan to collect data, how I will ensure the well-being and privacy of respondents, what kind of risk there is, if any, and other questions. Inherently, it is a grueling process, as it should be – when human participants are involved in a study, it is important their safety and privacy are protected.

Despite its demanding nature, I appreciate the importance of the rigorous process researchers have to undergo to ensure their human participants are protected. I also appreciate the responsibility of IRB teams to ensure human participants are protected. As I go through my third IRB process at Virginia Tech, I have a renewed appreciation for any research that involves vulnerable populations such as children, that works with medical devices, that uses medical interventions, and contains many other elements that may not be considered minimum or below minimum risk. I cannot imagine the sheer amount of time and energy to prepare the application material by itself.

As for my own survey, it is a no-risk study and I expect (and hope) a quick turnaround to get the approval to start distributing in the middle of the month. After my survey is distributed, I will begin the process for two more applications for the last two strands of my overall research. In January 2021, the certificate above will expire, and I will need to take my university’s new HRPP training program to continue engaging with the data I will collect over the fall semester. I was told the new training is more intensive than the old version. It would have been nice not to expend time for that since I will be wrapping up around that time. But wrapping up is also considered engagement with the data. The attitude I decided to have about is: I am looking forward to the new training!

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