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Working with humans as research subjects? We offer a general lowdown on IRB to get you going. 

Please note: you should always refer to your relevant CUNY IRB office/administrator for official IRB information. We cannot help you decide whether or not your project needs this kind of approval. 

Generally, what is IRB?

IRB is an official institutional ethical review process for researchers using humans as research subjects, and is designed to protect their rights. While often discussed in relation to biomedical research, IRB is often employed in the social sciences and in digital scholarship with humans as data.  

What Should I Keep in Mind About the IRB Process? 

  • If you think you might need this approval you should always reach out to your IRB office to apply 
  • IRB will affect your project timeline, and so should be an early consideration, as well as factored in during the project planning stage. It can take months to receive approval, which means that you cannot begin the work until that point
  • Graduate students cannot be main PIs on IRB proposals. Rather, their advisor should be, which makes this process impacted by your faculty advisor’s affiliated college
  • For digital scholarship, IRB can sometimes be a gray area depending on the context of the digital work/institution, and as such shouldn’t be the last stop for your ethical considerations. For more guidance, refer to the Association of Internet Researchers “Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines“ (FYI: this guide assumes you understand general concepts about IRB) and the Consider Ethics page of this site
  • If you are using humans as research subjects in your dissertation, you will not be considered to have moved to candidacy until you receive IRB approval 

What Are Some of the Topics I Should be Prepared to Discuss?

  • How your data is being collected
  • Data security
  • Anonymity 
  • Confidentiality 
  • Access (i.e. if you are anonymizing the data who has access to each version)
  • Participant consent 
  • Project sustainability (i.e. what happens to the data after the project–are you destroying it, keeping it, & etc.) 

How Do I Move Forward with the IRB Process at CUNY?

  • Talk to your faculty member about your project initially (before attempting to move your IRB application forward) so they know what is coming and can provide initial screening
  • Reach out to the Human Research Protection Program Director at your campus to discuss your project goals and ask questions about how to best mitigate any potential ethical red flags
  • Speak to your department’s IRB coordinator for further support in mitigating potential ethical red flags and submitting a proposal that is likely to receive IRB approval
  • Sign up for CITI Training (~1.5 hours – 2 hours for the initial training). This takes you through the formal IRB policies. You must pass the course to receive the certificate of completion, which would then allow you to do research through the IRB process. Important to note is that you must upload your certificate to your IRB application. This training can be done at any time, but must be renewed every few years.
  • Login to CUNY’s IRB platform and submit your application. Once submitted, the application must be formally approved in the system by your faculty advisor, before it will be reviewed by the IRB administrator
    • Note: your applications will likely come back with comments and suggested revisions that must be attended to before you receive approval. In this case, you will have to upload your revisions, seek advisor re-approval, and then IRB administrator approval. The revisions process might involve multiple stages

Where can I find CUNY’s IRB information?

Where Can I Learn More About Ethical Considerations in Internet Research and for Digital Projects?