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Resources :: Guide :: Student researchers :: Guide for faculty sponsors :: Lack experience to handle riskier participants

Student Researchers May Lack Experience to Handle Riskier Participants

Student researchers, especially those that travel abroad, often ask to work with participants that the Board feels are vulnerable and/or risk-sensitive and would only allow experienced researchers to study.  HIV patients, workers in sex trades, and victims of violence are not uncommon subjects for undergraduate research.  The Board understands that often these student researchers volunteer to serve these individuals, which is a valuable experience for the student and client.  However, documenting information about these individuals increases the probability of risk and the Board does not feel that most student researchers are experienced enough to handle sensitive situations.  In most cases, the Board will ask student researchers to study the clients indirectly by collecting data from professionals that work with the clients.  For example, in an HIV clinic, a student researcher could interview staff about their experiences working with HIV patients.  In some cases, this may also be a safer option for the student as well.  Although the Board does not protect researchers, some studies can put inexperienced researchers in dangerous situations.

Help your student to think more sensitively about the risks in the study and to address them adequately in the protocol.  The Board wants to know that the student has thought through the possibilities for harm in the study and has outlined procedures for handling situations that may put a participant at risk. The Board understands that the student may not be able to predict every outcome, but they would like to see that the student has developed a sense of how to recognize and deal with situations that arise, including seeking advice from those who may be more experienced.

If you feel that your student is capable of working with a more vulnerable population, make sure that he or she provides information in the protocol about their background and expertise.  The Board will also want to know about your expertise and will want assurance that the student will be supervised (either by you or an on-site supervisor). The Board and IRB-SBS staff wants to work with students to help them develop a protocol that allows them to have a valuable research experience while still protecting research participants. However, we can’t replace the value that a good faculty sponsor can be to a student researcher and we look forward to your assistance in this process as well.

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