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Nurture young scientists, invite them to join the IRB
PhD students learn from participation
IRBs often seek new members who are experienced scientists, professors, and medical doctors. But they might be missing an opportunity to educate and engage young scientists by overlooking that pool of potential ethics board members.
A social-behavioral-educational IRB at the Kent School of Social Work of the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY, has encouraged doctoral students to serve as committee members for the past few years.
This has helped to increase the board's membership, and it serves as a valuable way to educate young researchers about human subjects research protection, says Robert J. Barney, MSW, PhD-candidate and IRB member at the University of Louisville.
"This is a novel idea that most people haven't considered," Barney says. "It's worked well at our university, and it could give new direction to a lot of IRBs."
The IRB began inviting doctoral students to serve when the director of the PhD program was an IRB member, Barney says.
"Over the course of looking for new IRB committee members and trying to populate that committee, they discussed using PhD students," he explains. "They've been doing this for a couple of years now — I'm the third PhD student who came on the committee."
Sometimes PhD students are too busy for an obligation like this, but those who agree to be IRB members find it to be a rewarding experience, Barney says.
"It's a definite career boost for the PhD candidate," he says.
IRB participation helps doctoral students, who already have a science background and have begun or might begin to conduct research, thoroughly learn human subjects research regulations. It also teaches them more about how to navigate the IRB process when they have studies of their own to submit.
The university also has a program in which some doctoral students serve as research assistants while they are serving on the IRB. They receive funding to work at the college as an assistant, helping principal investigators fill out their IRB applications.
The IRB recruits doctoral students to serve two years as an alternate member, followed by one year as a full member, Barney says.
"For the first two years while we serve as alternate members, we're learning the regulations of the IRB itself, but we're also learning research courses and building on our knowledge and experience in those areas," Barney says. "You receive a lot of training in the first two years — it's quite a rigorous process."
As alternate members, the students are called to serve on the board only when a full member is absent, he says.
The students often showed up for each meeting, he adds.
Once students become full board members, they participate in protocol discussions.
"Like any other committee member, I'll raise a discussion, questions, and bring forth a consideration of issues on a regular basis," Barney says.
Serving on the board helps doctoral students become more familiar with the IRB, and it reduces their natural tendency to be intimidated when submitting protocols to the board, he notes.
"You begin to have more confidence that the IRB isn't there to inhibit research, but is there to uphold and protect human subjects," Barney says.
"I approach the IRB now with open arms," he adds. "I understand the processes and what will be required, and it gives me confidence that things can be worked out."