Dean of the Faculty

Institutional Review Board

Southwestern’s Institutional Review Board for Human Research (IRB) was established to approve research projects involving the use of human participants.

The Board exists both because Southwestern wants to ensure that research participants are treated with the utmost respect and safety and because federal law requires that all federally-funded research involving human participants receive Board approval.

Who Is On The IRB Committee?

Committee Members for 2014-2015 include

  • Kathryn Prater, Co-Chair, Department of Education
  • Abby Dings, Co-Chair, Department of Modern Languages & Literature
  • Davi Thornton, Department of Communication Studies
  • Trey Buchanan, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
  • Sandi Nenga, Department of Sociology & Anthropology  
  • Marilee Parsons, external community member
  • Max Taub, Department of Biology

Southwestern University IRB Procedures

Who Must Submit Their Projects For IRB Approval?

Other than the three exceptions listed below, anyone conducting academic or administrative research with human participants (including research where human tissues or cells will be collected or analyzed) must submit proposals to the IRB. For IRB purposes, research projects include not only standard faculty research but also class research projects, service-learning projects, student-led independent studies and capstone research, and administrative research. Examples of research methodologies include (but are not limited to) experiments, surveys, questionnaires, interviews, participant/informant observations, interventions, and program evaluations.


  • On-campus “user surveys” do NOT need to be submitted for IRB review provided that (a) the information collected is for the express purpose of understanding and/or improving service delivery, (b) the surveys do not contain questions of a personal or sensitive nature, and (c) they are anonymous (i.e., no identifying information is collected). Examples would include a brief questionnaire to assess student opinions following a first-year orientation event, or a survey that assesses Robertson Center visitors’ use of equipment.
  • Project involving naturalistic observation of public behavior do NOT need to be submitted for IRB review as long as the observations are conducted in a setting in which privacy is not normally expected and the student’s safety is not a concern. An example would include students in a research methods class who are asked to test hypotheses using naturalistic observation of people on or off campus (e.g., by recording whether male or female Starbucks’ customers are more likely to order full-fat or low-fat versions of a beverage).
  • In-class demonstrations do NOT need to be submitted for IRB review if data are collected from students enrolled in a course for the purpose of demonstrating course concepts or research methodology. In such cases, the demonstration is conducted in the context of the class, the risks are known to be minimal, and the data will not be published or disseminated outside of class. If students are enrolled in a research methods course, they may be required to participate if their participation is an essential component of course pedagogy (in which case the syllabus must alert students to this fact, and students’ enrollment in the course would constitute their consent to participate). In other classes, students should be given the option to not participate or to participate in an alternate assignment if they so desire.

Which Form Do I Submit?

Most research projects require the Full Research Proposal form; however, in some cases professors can seek “blanket” approval for class research projects based on a generic description of topics and/or methods that the professor will subsequently allow students to pursue. Class projects that meet ALL of the criteria listed below can be submitted for review by the professor using the Class Project Proposal form.  

Requirements for Class Project Proposal (note that ALL criteria must be met)

  • The research is conducted by Southwestern University students for class credit. 
  • The research is not on a sensitive or illegal issue (e.g., drugs, alcohol, sexual activity).
  • All participants are 18 years of age or older unless the research is observational only.
  • All individual data will be anonymous.
  • Data collection methods include direct observation or participant observation on-campus or at public events off-campus, or it includes oral interviews or anonymous written surveys completed by SU students. 

If any of the above criteria are not met, you must submit the Full Research Proposal form.  

When And Where Do I Submit My IRB Form?

The Principal Investigator (PI) should submit research proposals as an attached file to  PIs must be a Southwestern University faculty or staff member.  Proposals should be submitted no later than two weeks before the proposed start date.

NOTE: Proposals must be officially submitted by a faculty or staff member as the Principal Investigator. For student projects, the faculty supervisor must read and approve the proposal prior to its submission.

When And How Will I Be Notified Of My Decision?

The IRB will email the PI a letter describing the results of the review, including reasons for any requested modifications or for denying approval of the project. Please do not begin data collection until approval is received.

What If I Still Have Questions?

If you have questions about how to complete the form, are unsure of which form to use, or are unsure about whether your project requires submission, please contact either of the chairs of the IRB, Dr. Abby Dings, phone 512-863-1667, email or Dr. Kathryn Prater, phone 512-863-1978, email

Useful Forms

Regulations and Guidelines