FAQs - Social Science projects

Getting approval by the Human Subjects Board and other useful tips-provided by 2002 URECA fellow, Shane Hartman.

Q: My project is a social science that utilizes only written surveys to obtain information from people. Do I need to have my project approved by the Human Subjects Board?

A: Yes, even if your project is not an actual "experiment" and just relies on surveys or interviews to obtain information from people, you must still have your project approved by the human subjects board.

Q: My understanding of the human subjects board is that one must only seek approval if they are receiving federal funding or grants. Since I am only being funded internally (through URECA), why do I need the board's approval?

A: Institutions (such as SUNY Stony Brook) may decide for themselves if they wish to enact policy that requires all research involving human subjects to get approved by their human subjects board- regardless of considering the source of funding.

Q: My subjects are deceased. I am using records to perform my research. Do I have to obtain approval from the human subjects board?

A: The answer to this question is: possibly. Call or e-mail the Stony Brook University human subjects board for specific advising.

Q: What is involved in getting human subject board approval?

A: There is an entire process in place available at http://www.research.sunysb.edu/humans/humansubjects.html. For starters though, please note that as a student you must find a faculty that has undergone the human subjects training and has been certified to perform research involving human subjects. Professors who have done this are allowed to be the "primary investigator" in these types of projects. All projects involving human subjects must have a primary investigator that is a faculty member of Stony Brook University. Also, you must go through this training. If you wish to have your advisor as your "primary investigator," she or he can undergo the training and get certified to be your primary investigator.

Q: What if my advisor is not certified and does not wish to get certified or does not have the time to get certified?

A: You are not limited to using your advisor as your "primary investigator." Any faculty member who has reviewed your project and who will assist you by volunteering to help oversee it can be your primary investigator as long as they are certified by the human subjects board.

Q: How long does the human subjects training take to complete?

A: The following information refers to the online training course option (http://www.research.sunysb.edu/humans/citi.html). The official answer is that it takes around six hours. In reality, it can take longer depending on your interest level and how much of it you can complete in each sitting. Plan on gradually doing the training over the course of a week.

Q: Aside from identifying who the primary investigator will be and completing the training, what other aspects of obtaining approval from the human subjects board can be challenging?

A: All of your material for the project must be complete and in order before submitting them for review. This includes surveys, interviewing objectives/methods, flyers for recruiting subjects and/or letters of permission from the organizations that you are conducting the research at. Plan on spending two to four weeks getting your application ready since some of the materials require relying on the postal service (letters of permission example- which must be originals on company/institution letterhead).

Q: A lot of the modules in the training for human subjects research seem very unrelated to my work. Do I have to complete them?

A: Most researchers will need to complete a minimum of 11 to 12 modules. Some may have to complete more. Many of these modules will seem distant from your topic, but, are required since the training designers cannot make custom training for each individual.

Q: I am doing work involving human subjects, but my advisor/department/colleague said that I did not need to go through this process. What should I do?

A: Not going through the approval process when your research involves human subjects is against university policy. If you would like to double check whether or not it is necessary, feel free to ask the office of the vice president for research at judy.matuk@sunysb.edu

Q: My research only involves fellow university students. Do I need to get approval from the human subjects board in order to do the project or to recruit the students from campus?

A: The answer to both questions is yes. First, approval is needed to conduct the project. Second, the board must approve your recruitment method (flyers, etc…) prior to the recruitment of subjects or beginning the project.