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Office of Research Compliance

Student Research

The USC Institutional Review Board (IRB) provides flexibility in the level of review for student research projects. The purpose of this guidance is to clarify when student research must be reviewed by the USC IRB.

Research Projects Related to a Thesis or Dissertation

Research projects involving human subjects conducted by graduate students to support a thesis or dissertation must be reviewed and approved by the IRB. It is possible that a research project may qualify for Exempt Review, but it must meet explicit criteria and the IRB must approve the exemption.  

  

Undergraduate Research Projects

USC defines undergraduate research as a scholarly effort, generally beyond the classroom, aimed at developing a student's skills in inquiry through opportunities to contribute to and/or pursue original intellectual or creative work. This is a research experience undertaken for the student’s benefit.  It is not research as defined in regulation and policy; therefore, IRB review is not required.  This includes capstone projects, honors theses, and similar activities such as Magellan, Honors, and other undergraduate initiated grant projects.

Faculty advising undergraduates involved in a research experience are responsible for ensuring that the students understand and abide by ethical obligations in carrying out their projects. The IRB recommends that, at a minimum, students complete the training modules available through CITI. Additionally, instructors are responsible for reviewing student projects to ensure that the methods and procedures are ethical and appropriate. This includes monitoring student activities during the conduct of the project to ensure that the rights and welfare of participants are adequately protected.

 

Class-related Research Projects

Students often engage in a research training program or practicum, the supervised practical application of previously studied theory, as well as undertaking class projects that provide an opportunity to practice various research methods (e.g. interview, observation and survey techniques.) These projects typically fulfill course requirements, are often completed in one semester, and are designed to teach research methods. Course instructors design these assignments to engage students in interaction with individuals, gather data about individuals, and/or illustrate concepts covered in the course. Such projects typically are not designed or intended to produce or contribute to generalizable knowledge; therefore, IRB review is not required.  If data collected in conjunction with these activities becomes useful for subsequent research, the IRB should be consulted to determine if use of the data constitutes human subject research. 

Course instructors and faculty advisors are responsible for ensuring that students understand and abide by ethical obligations in carrying out their assignments. To this end, the IRB recommends that, at a minimum, students complete the appropriate training modules available through CITI.  Additionally, instructors and advisors are responsible for reviewing student projects to ensure that the methods and procedures are ethical and appropriate. This includes monitoring student activities during the conduct of the project to ensure that the rights and welfare of participants are adequately protected.

 

Avoiding Potential Problems

Students engaged in the process of learning research techniques often want to focus on compelling real-life issues; however, the IRB recommends that students avoid topics that may raise concerns for the well-being of the subjects or the students themselves. This includes research projects about illegal activities, sensitive personal behavior, and other areas where a breach of confidentiality may be damaging or harmful. While a practicum or other class-related project is not under the purview of the IRB, the IRB staff is available for consultation with students and advisors.

 

Responsibility of Faculty Advisors or Mentors

Faculty advisors or mentors have the following responsibilities:

  • Ensure that activities are conducted according to the ethical standards of the relevant discipline.
  • Determine when a student project meets the definition of human subject research and assist students in preparing review materials for the IRB and to ensure that the research is conducted in accordance with USC policy, ethical principles, and IRB approved procedures.

Office of Research Compliance


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