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I am a high school student planning to do a research project involving human participants. This is for a research class at my school, and one of my teachers told me that I need IRB approval. My research mentor has a computer science PhD.

I want to improve on existing machine learning models for detecting dyslexia. I want to collect data from both dyslexic and non-dyslexic participants.

My school does not have an IRB so I am planning to send it to an IRB of a surrounding university.

My question is, how can I get my project reviewed by an IRB? Is it possible for me to send IRBs to multiple universities at the same time? I know you can submit to a different IRB if one IRB rejects you, but I could not find any answers to my question.

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    "My school does not have an IRB so I am planning to send it to an IRB of a surrounding university" - what makes you think these other universities' IRBs will consider your submission? Do they have some sort of agreement with your institution?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 17:06
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    What is your position - are you a student? Faculty member? Ordinarily someone without an IRB would have to pay a private IRB to review, and I'd expect this to cost $1000s. Does your institution have any research support staff?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 18:14
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    Only the institution can accept an IRB decision, and has sole authority to determine which IRB(s) it would accept decisions from. You need to find which IRB(s) (if any!) are acceptable to the institution. If there is no acceptable IRB, well, you cannot perform the research.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 1, 2023 at 18:18
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    So you would need IRB approval if you are collecting data from subjects like this. But there may be some already collected data that you could use for your purposes, and it might be sufficiently anonymized that you would no longer have to deal with IRB. I would look at papers you have read that use data that is similar to that which you intend to collect and see if you can get access to pre-existing, anonymized data.
    – Dawn
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 4:54
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    @WolfgangBangerth Ah, apologies if my comment was unclear. I meant "your mentor may not actually have experience submitting IRBs," in response to Melted's previous comment not "you don't need one" (no comment on that). Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 22:01

2 Answers 2

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how can I get my project reviewed by an IRB?

You pay them. University IRBs may or may not handle cases from outside the university, but there are commercial IRBs that do this all the time.

It is likely that your project would qualify for a "minimal risk" exemption (e.g., if you are having participants complete simple tasks and recording their responses and reaction times, then the odds of a participant being harmed are negligible). But, even this would be take months and cost at least $1,000.

The possible complication is that you would presumably be recording diagnoses (e.g., which participants are dyslexic) and publishing data based on this dataset. I do not know if this would be considered a "medical record," but I suspect it might be, in which case you might actually need a full IRB protocol. This would probably be a no-go: I seriously doubt any IRB would approve a study in which the principal investigator is a high school student. (And even if they did, this would be very expensive and time consuming).

one of my teachers told me that I need IRB approval.

This may or may not technically be true. For sure federally-funded research requires an IRB (either a full protocol or a formal exemption), and if you want to publish this in a "real" science journal, they will require it too. If this is for a science competition, they may have a policy requiring one (though they probably just say "at your own risk"). If none of the above apply, you probably don't actually need IRB approval.

That said, the above discussion should hopefully make it clear that there are lots of legal landmines here. While the odds of you harming someone and getting sued are very small, it could really mess up your life if it happened. Your teacher advisor is probably (rightly) concerned about this (I suspect "you'd need IRB approval for that" is an elegant way of saying "no freaking way!").

I want to improve on existing machine learning models for detecting dyslexia. I want to collect data from both dyslexic and non-dyslexic participants.

Bear in mind that machine learning models are data-hungry, and collecting data is tedious. Even getting data from 50 participants would likely require a heroic amount of work on your part, and it's unlikely you could do much machine learning based on such a small dataset.

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Although it might vary from country to country, my experience is that many universities are willing to undertake ethical review of research projects for a fee. To prevent one from shopping around for a favorable review, it is often a condition that you declare on your submission that you have not previously submitted a similar application to another Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) or Institutional Review Board (IRB). You might, as a consequence, need to consider carefully which institution is the best one for your submission, and perhaps do so in consultation with an appropriate person from your own institution.

Maintaining an IRB or HREC is an expensive exercise and a number of smaller institutions can't afford to do so. In addition, by providing a review service to non-insitutional members, a university that does have ad IRB can assist those people who are not affiliated with any formal institution to meet the demands of journals that insist that authors have previously had their project reviewed for conformance with accepted ethical standards. You will see, for example, that the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia discusses "non-affiliated" applications on this page.

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