Texas Tech University
Scholarly Messenger
Serving on the Institutional Review Board
By Kenneth Demarree
Editor's Note: This is the first in an occasional series of columns from members of the university's responsible research committees.

For the last two years, I have proudly served as a member of the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Because all of my research involves human subjects, I was well aware that the IRB had devoted considerable time and effort to working on my own proposals. Because of this, I admit that I initially accepted a position on the IRB out of obligation. However, since that time, I have found the actual service to be rewarding.

This is for several reasons. First, it is fascinating to learn about the broad range of research conducted at Texas Tech. The IRB only reviews research involving human subjects, but the breadth of this research is impressive. There are many intelligent and creative faculty throughout the university, most of whom I would not have come in contact with were it not for my role on the IRB.

Second, it is satisfying to help researchers to address human subjects concerns in a manner that still allows them to get at their research question. It is particularly rewarding working with researchers whose research does not typically involve human subjects or who are delving into a new mode of data collection (e.g., via the Internet).

Finally, the IRB presents a number of challenges to its membership. With research ethics, there are often no clear “right” or “wrong” answers, and different ethical principles can sometimes lead to different decisions. The conversations I’ve had with researchers and with Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) staff and other IRB members have been intellectually stimulating. Further, it is fun (yes, I know what that word means!) to try to extend these principles to new situations. One of my specializations on the IRB has been tackling the issues that arise with newer technologies. In today’s digital age, it is possible to recruit participants and collect data remotely, using resources like Mechanical Turk, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones and publicly available blogs. Helping scholars conduct their research using these platforms in a manner that protects the rights of participants allows Texas Tech researchers to be at the forefront of understanding human behavior.

Kenneth Demarree, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a member of the IRB.