“Texas A&M is a Tier-1 research university. You are here because you have shown potential for learning and conducting research. It is an expectation that you will conduct research and contribute to the knowledge base of the profession you are a part of.” These words were uttered by a professor during one of hallway talks I had during my first semester here at Texas A&M university. I knew before coming here that I am going to become part of an academic community as a Ph.D. student that prides itself on being recognized as a strong research institute. And why not? The facts support this claim. So, hearing those words didn’t just fill me with anxiety by also with excitement because I knew that I had come to the right place and I was among the right people. Now let’s get to work and do some research.
As a researcher in training I have come to realize that doing research is not an approach that can be defined as a straight line, there are turnarounds, turnabouts, loops, wrong turns, dead ends and forks. I now this now because I am on my third revision of my first IRB application. For those who do not know what an IRB is, it stands for “Institutional Review Board”. IRB is a group of individuals appointed by the university to oversee the conduct of researchers as they perform research on human and non-human subject. This administrative body reviews your IRB application and determines the shortcomings in it and then notifies you of the required additions and/or updates in the form of stipulations. Stipulations, such a neat word which mean a condition or requirement for the agreement. So, an IRB application is essentially an agreement between the researcher and the university regarding the conduct of the experiment being proposed.
As a lay person or even as a novice I would have questioned the necessity of such a governing body. I would simply claim that the people conducting the experiment got to the position of conducting the experiment by being very smart, capable, educated and experienced in this sort of thing. After all the only people that can be designated as a principal investigator are qualified faculty. So why does anybody look over their shoulders? Well the answer to this question and many others connected with the IRB application became evident as I undertook coursework in research methods. First quantitative, then qualitative and finally mixed-methods research. And it wasn’t until I took the mixed methods research course that I realized that there are so many instances when the researcher can make a mistake and/or act unethically without them even knowing. Learning about all the pitfalls of doing research with human subjects has made me appreciate the need and the role of IRB and the IRB application.
I am confident that third time is the charm and hopefully this time my IRB will clear the hurdles and will be approved. But if it not then I will take it as a sign of some shortcoming in my research design which may harm one of my research subject and will thank the IRB for being the second, third and fourth sets of eyes proof my IRB application to make it as harmless as possible.
Aamir is a PhD student in the College of Education and Human Development