By Cecilia Cress and Olivia Montes
In preparation for the spring 2022 semester, the Review Board for Research with Human Subjects at Washington College released a memo regarding new Institutional Review Board training requirements for future projects, in which all student, staff, and faculty researchers will be required to complete “ethics training [for] conducting research with human participants,” according to the preliminary email sent Oct. 12.
According to the WC Faculty Handbook, the IRB “establishes procedures that help the College to meet assurances which may be requested by federal or state governments for the protection of human subjects in research activities; approves planned research with human subjects, as necessary; [and] reports annually to the President and Dean of the College on its activities.”
While the College has not faced criticism regarding “privacy…data integrity…[or] ethical treatment,” according to Interim Provost Dr. Michael Harvey, this training — initially proposed as a facet of IRB ongoing reviews of potential projects — will further add to the “ongoing professionalization” of research on the WC campus
“It’s important for investigators, whether they’re faculty, staff, or students, to know what needs to be in place in designing research, and to know what it takes to conduct research ethically, [and] this training is a really important step in that direction,” Dr. Harvey said. “
“We have been working to align our procedures with the federal guidelines and regulations governing IRBs, one of which includes requiring ethics training for researchers working with human subjects,” Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the IRB Dr. Tia Murphy said. “We feel it’s important that we join other institutions in requiring training. We want our faculty, staff, and students to know what protections have to be in place to conduct research with people in an ethical manner.”
According to Dr. Murphy, students are required to complete four modules for the training “to provide a broad overview as well as knowledge about the most essential aspects of conducting ethical research with humans,” which includes History and Ethical Principles, Assessing Risk, Informed Consent, and Privacy and Confidentiality. This training is set to take approximately two to three hours to complete.
For faculty and staff members, because they are “responsible for overseeing the entire project, even if it is student-led,” they must complete eight modules, which will take several hours to complete, according to Dr. Murphy. These additional courses will include Defining Research with Human Subjects; Federal Regulations; Populations in Research Requiring Additional Considerations and/or Protections; and Unanticipated Problems.
The IRB will mandate these trainings to be completed by the start of the spring 2022 semester. Any IRB proposal submitted by the beginning of the spring will require all researchers to submit a certificate of completion along with proposals.
“We live in a world where every day, when you use your phone, sites are putting cookies on your phone, sites are tracking your data,” Dr. Harvey said. “I think there is greater sensitivity to how data is collected and how data is used and who has access to it.”
According to Dr. Murphy, these certifications can last for five years, which can help students who plan on continuing their education to fulfill future academic requirements for institutions that accept Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative training.
“We feel it’s important that we join other institutions in requiring training [because] we want our faculty, staff, and students to know what protections have to be in place to conduct research with people in an ethical manner,” Dr. Murphy said. “While some aspects of research protections might be obvious, others are not and we need to make sure individuals know what they should and should not do within the context of research.”
“It’s also important to understand why we have these protections in place, many of which came out of some unethical research studies of the past that we do not want to see repeated,” she said.
For any additional questions or concerns, Dr. Harvey encourages people to reach out.
“It’s a reputable training module, and we’ve put a lot of care into the modules that students will do,” he said. “You can now have much more confidence that your participation [in student surveys], people have followed the ethics of it, people aren’t going to mess with your data.”