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Understanding the Role of an Institutional Review Board

Here’s what you should know about Walden University’s Institutional Review Board.

There is more to the doctoral dissertation process than meets the eye, especially when it comes to the integrity of the research. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) were first established in 1974 as part of the National Research Act.1 At the time, their primary focus was to protect the rights of the human subjects used in research. Today, IRBs still play a critical role in the research arena, but in a role that has become more comprehensive.

An Institutional Review Board is responsible for reviewing research that includes the collection or analysis of data to ensure that it meets the ethical standards set by an institution—such as a university—and U.S. federal regulations. At Walden University, students must submit research for approval by the IRB in order to receive credit and progress through their educational journey. To further understand the process, it’s may be helpful to understand a few things about Walden’s Institutional Review Board.

Understanding the Role of an Institutional Review Board

Students and faculty members who are conducting research projects that involve the collection or analysis of data need to complete and submit an IRB application.

The only categories of research that do not need to be submitted for IRB approval are literature reviews, hypothetical research designs, and faculty projects that are completely independent of Walden resources, participants, and funding. For course-based research projects, the faculty member who designed the course is responsible for obtaining IRB approval.

There are red-flag issues that should trigger a research ethics consultation with the IRB.

For instance, researchers who are planning to collect data at their own workplace would most likely benefit from a consultation. There are also certain sensitive topics that researchers should seek further guidance on from the IRB during the proposal writing process. These topics include:

  • Questions about professional work that might lead to disclosure of behavior(s) or views that could potentially get someone fired or passed over for promotion (e.g., cutting corners, lack of compliance with policy, disagreement with leadership decisions).
  • Questions about substance use, mental state, or violence that might obligate a referral or intervention to prevent harm to the participant (addiction, severe depression, suicidality, eating disorders, bullying, physical threats).
  • Illegal activities in which the participant might incriminate him/herself via research data (e.g., illegal drug use, illegal immigration, child neglect, insider trading, harassment, assault, bullying, cyberbullying).
  • Personal issues that could severely distress an individual if framed in a judgmental, non-inclusive, dismissive, or otherwise insensitive manner (ethnicity, body image, religion, etc.).
  • Race or ethnicity as a variable or inclusion criterion.

During a research ethics consultation, an IRB member will help students develop solutions to any ethical challenges they may face in their doctoral research.

This consultation is conducted during IRB office hours and in a group advising format. Guidance provided by an IRB member often includes information on:

  • Setting up partnerships with sites.
  • Recruiting participants.
  • Obtaining and documenting consent.
  • Minimizing risks for participants.
  • Maintaining data privacy.
  • Managing dual roles and possible conflicts of interest.
  • Sharing results with stakeholders.

Enroll in Online Courses and Earn Your College Degree at Walden—an Online University Designed to Support You

Choosing the right online university is a big decision. If you are looking to earn your PhD or doctorate, it’s important that you find an institution that can give you the support you need to be successful. Walden, an accredited university, offers an array of student support services, including doctoral research and dissertation assistance through the Center for Research Quality and the Writing Center. And thanks to online education, you can enroll in a doctoral or PhD program while you continue to work full time. That means you can better maintain a work-life balance while you conduct research, write your dissertation, and add a doctorate or PhD to your credentials. And with Walden’s flexible online learning platform, there’s no need to rearrange your schedule or commute to campus—you can take classes at whatever time of day works best for you as you earn your terminal degree and advance your career.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering high-quality online degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, as well as online certificate programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,