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I'm coming to the end of my PhD in a social science field, and given the unlikelihood of landing a research-oriented position at really any university, I'm finding myself in the position of having to come to terms with what it might mean to take a less-than-ideal position given that my main interest in academia is doing research. One thing I'm not sure of is whether I could still do research at all if I had to settle on something as non-research-centered as a community college position. I assume the major hurdle, other than lack of time, would be not having an IRB to approve research plans. However, I've searched generally online and found that at least some community colleges in the US (where I am) do in fact have Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Is this something I could expect to find at many community colleges or is it just an oddball thing that a few might have?

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  • This is a fine question, but you seem to be coming to it as an x-y question. There are several questions about IRB approval without affiliation with a university; e.g. Where can I go to get IRB approval?, Independent Research and institutional review boards?, Non-profit organization, IRB Approval, and publishing?, How can I get human-subjects approval from a nearby university?
    – Anyon
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:24
  • Like the answers to those questions describe, commercial or independent review boards are an option, that would presumably be on the table also for researchers at community college. Thus funding to pay their fees may be a larger hurdle.
    – Anyon
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:38
  • Why do you need IRB approval? I'm familiar with all sorts of reasons it might be a good idea, and even more reasons that institutions would want to mandate them, but why do YOU need an IRB?
    – fectin
    Dec 3, 2023 at 14:48
  • Thanks for the links @Anyon. Those are different questions because they assume that one is not part of an educational institution that might have an IRB. IRBs in such institutions are obviously preferable as they don't have the huge conflict of interest that comes up from being both the financer and submitter to a private IRB. Dec 3, 2023 at 17:35
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    Right. So then you're going to need to look at the specific requirements you're trying to comply with. HHS registration vs certification, FDA requires your institution to take certain actions, etc. There is likely not a simple answer for IRBs in general, so you'll really want to be more specific.
    – fectin
    Dec 3, 2023 at 18:06

2 Answers 2

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I think the only way to find out is to do what you're doing and research specific schools. As far as I know it isn't common for community colleges to have IRB's or really support research at all. It makes sense, at least to me. There are no grad students (there aren't even upper level students), most professors there are not necessarily interested in or experienced with research, and the programs are often focused on "practical" 2 year degrees rather than just serving as an inexpensive bridge to university. So let's reframe your question away from Do CC have IRB's? to How do I get IRB approval (or do research) at a CC?.

I think your best bet might be to collaborate with a local university that has an IRB. Finding collaborators there might get you 90% of what you want. Depending on university specific rules, you might need a "sponsor" within the org, or you might be able to just submit to the IRB (less likely but not impossible). If that doesn't pan out, there are probably research focused professional organizations may offer connections/support in this realm. An alternative option would just be to not do research that requires an IRB (at least until you can move somewhere that has an in-house IRB).

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    There are both nonprofit and commercial IRBs. One of them might review a proposal for a reduced fee or no fee. A nearby small college or university might act similarly. A community college can enter into an agreement with another institution and might want to either do that or start their own IRB if the college has Federal funding. Dec 2, 2023 at 22:29
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    3rd party IRB's are worth looking into. However, I don't know how realistic starting an IRB or setting up a institutional relationship is for the OP. Those are options that seem far fetched for the average new grad.
    – sErISaNo
    Dec 3, 2023 at 7:50
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I'll sketch out an example where I teach. CUNY (City University of New York) includes seven community colleges, eleven senior colleges, and seven professional institutions. Among those, the Graduate Center counts as an R1 research facility.

Faculty employment is aligned throughout the greater institution, so tenure-track staff even at the community colleges have a research requirement (in addition to somewhat increased teaching load). Therefore, standing IRBs service the entire organization. Over a decade ago, every campus had its own IRB; in 2011 these were consolidated into 5 University Integrated IRBs, with 19 on-site HRPP (Human Research Protection Program) offices to facilitate the work.

My shaky understanding is that this is, overall, an unusual structure. So if you're interested in pursuing research at a community college then you might look for employment at a broader institution like ours.

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    Thanks for this answer. I had the thought that some community colleges might be associated with a larger network of schools that share an IRB like this. Dec 3, 2023 at 17:40
  • I think the tight coupling within CUNY is rare, maybe unique for US. In the states that I've had experience with (including NY) the community college system is completely separate from the state colleges and the teaching and research universities may be separate from each other as well.
    – Buffy
    Dec 3, 2023 at 19:44
  • @buffy There is no tight coupling by default. Each institution is responsible for its own IRB review. They can decide to cooperate with other institutions. Dec 4, 2023 at 16:55
  • Are the 5 IRBs topic specific, eg, one for medicine, one for other health, one for education, etc? Or do they all review any proposals, to speed up the review process? Dec 4, 2023 at 17:00
  • @DavidSmith: I'm not sure, as I don't directly interact with them myself. Scanning the HRPP link above, there's no sign of subject-specialization. It looks maybe there's 3 currently active, 2 staggered meeting monthly each, and a 3rd (#5) to handle expedited requests continuously. Dec 4, 2023 at 23:40

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