As a student, you have limited time to complete a research class project within the academic quarter. Therefore, you may want to identify a project that will not require a human subjects review, as you will need to wait for the review to be completed before starting your research, which may affect your ability to successfully complete your project by the end of the quarter. The guidelines below are designed to help you make a decision in conjunction with guidance from your research instructor.

Assess your research project
The intent of your project is critical to determining whether human subjects approval is needed. Human subjects clearance is not necessary if the intent of your project is:

  • To learn a research skill, such as how to interview or create a survey, and
  • Not designed to answer a unique research question, and
  • Not designed to produce generalizable finding. For example, the data is destroyed after the class project, and findings are presented only in your class and/or at your capstone presentation.

Additionally, projects designed as program evaluation studies do not require human subjects review. Examples of program evaluation questions include projects that examine the effectiveness of a particular staff training or client service. Program evaluation also implies that the findings are not intended to add to generalizable knowledge and remain within the agency that sponsored the program.

Do no harm
It’s important to develop projects where study participants are not harmed or burdened by the classroom research. Keep in mind that:

  • Projects should not ask about illegal activities or ask other sensitive questions that may place either you or the study participant at risk. Work with your instructor to ensure that risks are minimized.
  • Projects should entail anonymous data collection (preferred) or confidential data collection such as Web-based survey or checkbox answers.
  • In cases where you want to learn interview skills and conduct qualitative analysis, you will most likely want to audio-record the interview. Afterwards, you should promptly transcribe and then destroy the audio-tape. Your transcriptions should not contain any identifying information. Work with your instructor to construct an interview guide where the risks are minimized.

Follow the human subjects review protocol
Human subjects approval is required if you are testing a hypothesis or asking a research question that you have developed and you plan to publish or present these findings outside of the class. Consult the exemption, minimal risk and full review pages, plus other relevant links on the School’s Human Subjects Review Web pages, and then contact your instructor if more information is needed about completing a human subjects application.

Case Studies

Scenario 1: A student interviews her field-education agency's clients about their satisfaction with agency services. Study results are reported only in a paper to the agency and are discussed only in the student's capstone presentation at the School of Social Work. This study does not require human subjects review. The instructor and the practicum agency supervisor provide guidance on consent and confidentiality issues. The student must obtain a letter of cooperation from the agency and pass that along to the instructor.

Scenario 2: Two students spend a week in Mexico harvesting a crop. They interview farmers about the influence of crop distribution policies on their families. When they return, they present findings to their class and in the capstone presentation and use the data to make presentations to community groups, including the one that funded their trip. This study requires human subjects review.

Scenario 3: A student wants to learn how to construct an interview guide and analyze qualitative data. The student plans to ask classmates about their most memorable high school experiences. The questions are intentionally written to minimize the potential for risk, such as feelings of discomfort regarding disclosing sensitive or embarrassing stories. The interviews will be audio-taped with the participants’ permission. The student transcribes the interview data and destroys the tapes. This study does not require human subjects review.