Contact Us
Nona C. Smith
Director of Sponsored Research Tel: 610-526-5298

Billie Jo Ember
Grants Associate Tel: 610-526-7504

109 Taylor Hall
Bryn Mawr College
101 North Merion Ave
Bryn Mawr PA 19010-2899

Fax: 610-526-5165

Student Research with Human Subjects at Bryn Mawr College

Faculty in a number of different disciplines at Bryn Mawr College supervise students (both undergraduate and graduate) in projects that involve the collection of data from human participants. Learning how to conduct such projects in conformity with ethical guidelines is an important part of a student’s educational experience. While the College encourages student projects of this sort, it wishes at the same time to minimize risk to participants, to protect participants’ right to informed consent, and to preserve the confidentiality of their data.

The purpose of this policy is to provide general guidelines to faculty advisors regarding oversight of student projects involving human participants and to clarify when such projects must be reviewed by the IRB for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research.

IRB review is governed by the applicable federal definition of research as "any systematic investigation, including research development (pilot testing) designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” Research involving human participants is that in which a researcher obtains data through intervention or interaction with or obtains identifiable private information from a living individual.

Generally, student projects involving human participants fall into one of two categories: (1) practica, internships, or class projects that involve the collection of data from human participants but are NOT designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge; or (2) directed or independent research projects that are designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Projects in category one do not require IRB review. Projects in category two must be reviewed by the IRB before any data collection begins.

Practica/Internships/Class Projects Involving Collection of Data from Human Participants

Pratica, internships, and class projects may be designed to provide students with an opportunity to practice various methods such as interviews, observation/participant observation, and survey techniques, as well as data analysis. These projects may include, but are not limited to, those associated with research methods or data analysis classes, as well as those taught within the Praxis Program. In these cases, data may be gathered from human participants. However, because such projects are designed solely to provide training to students and not designed to lead to generalizable knowledge, they do not constitute "research" as defined by federal guidelines and do not require IRB review.

Research Projects, Directed or Independent

Any inquiry conducted by students, graduate or undergraduate, that uses human beings as participants and does not fall into the category of research practicum/internship or class project as defined above, must be reviewed and approved by the IRB before data collection begins. These may include, but are not limited to, independent undergraduate research projects and honors theses, masters theses and doctoral dissertations, all of which are intended to contribute to generalizable knowledge.

Level of IRB Review Required

This determination depends on the level of risk involved and whether or not research involves categories of activity, specified in the federal regulations.

There are three levels of review: Please consult the Office of Sponsored Research website, Institutional Review Board link, for more detailed explanation about the criteria for each of these levels of review and the required forms.

  • Research that is exempt from expedited or full IRB review. The departmental reviewer for each department reviews the research, confirms that it meets the standard for exemption from further review, and files the paperwork (Forms A and B) with the Office of Sponsored Research.
  • Research requiring expedited review. One member of the IRB reviews the research. An answer is provided by the IRB Chair to the researcher within a two to three week time frame. Complete Forms A and C on the Office of Sponsored Research website and forward them to the IRB chair.
  • Research requiring full IRB board review. This research must be reviewed at one of the standing meetings of the IRB in October, December, February, and May. Exact dates are provided at the beginning of each semester. Complete forms A and D on the Office of Sponsored Research website and forward 10 copies of the complete proposal to the IRB Chair.

Responsibility of Faculty Advisors

It is the responsibility of faculty advisors to determine whether a student project qualifies as a practicum/internship/class project or whether it constitutes research and must therefore be reviewed by the Bryn Mawr College IRB before data collection may begin. Advisors who are uncertain whether IRB review is needed are encouraged to err on the side of caution and contact the IRB chair for advice.

When student projects involve research as defined above, it is the further responsibility of faculty advisors to assist students in preparing review materials for the IRB and to ensure that the research is conducted in accordance with federal regulations and Bryn Mawr College policy.

Regardless of whether a student project constitutes research or qualifies as a practicum, internship, or class project as defined above, faculty advisors have an affirmative obligation to:

  • provide ongoing supervision and oversight of all collection of data from human participants
  • assist students to develop projects that involve the minimum degree of risk to participants consistent with the goals of the project (The use of audio and videotaping should be carefully considered in terms of potential risks to participants)
  • ensure that students understand their ethical obligations in carrying out their assignments, including minimizing risks to participants, providing informed consent procedures, and protecting the confidentiality of participants’ data.

Effective, October, 2015