Wednesday, August 26, 2009

IRBs like crazy!

I am becoming a total pro at whipping up an IRB exemption application. I am now approved for three and on my way to a fourth. Once you get the hang of it it's really not so bad, and the research I am proposing is all unharmful, uses either educational data I already have access to or samples from tissue banks, from companies with pre-existing protocols, or that will otherwise be discarded.

We're working on getting one of our technologies tested out in some patient material, so we needed to get access to stuff. Since my institution does not have a medical school, that proved to be a lot trickier than I originally thought it would be. It turns out that custom patient sample collection protocols for somewhat obscure diseases COST A FRICKING BOATLOAD! You can't get samples without money, and typically cannot get money without pilot data, which requires samples of course. So we were caught in this circle of complication. Luckily, we found a company that has reasonable prices on fresh sample collection and can get us the material we need under the conditions we require. I am able to spend my start up money on things like that, and will be applying for grants to fund bigger translational projects as soon as we get some data from the pilots. But essentially, it has taken a YEAR to get to the point where we will have samples to test on. WHEW!

My other IRBs are for educational studies. I'm trying to maximize my ability to demonstrate scholarly productivity even while spending some time trying to improve my teaching and provide research opportunities to kids. As part of my CAREER award proposal (submitted this past July), I am working with two organizations, on-campus and an off-campus, to provide high school student research lab experiences in the summer. I IRB'd it up to actually do some analysis on the outcomes (perceptual confidence-wise and demonstrable career-path-wise) for the students who join the program. The other one is to try out a new technology in the class that I teach with another professor and to study whether it helps the students do better or not. For both of these, I plan on trying to get a publication out of it to get my added value and combine efforts. In our School, just being a good teacher doesn't necessarily help you much for tenure but publishing on educational research does (as long as it is only a small part of an overall well-established research program).

So after not even knowing that IRB existed a year or so ago, I am now a professional human subjects researcher. Yippee!