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Institutional Review Board
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Guidance & FAQs

Involving Students or Employees as Research Subjects

Though the researcher may be careful to avoid potentially coercive behavior, the very nature of the relationship with the subject can create the appearance of coercion. For this reason, researchers should be aware of the potential for coercion that exists when a research subject is also a student, employee, colleague, or subordinate of the researcher.

Information about how students and colleagues will be recruited and how coercion will be avoided should be included in the information submitted to the IRB.

Using Students & Avoiding Coercion

Whenever possible, researchers should avoid using their own students if another population of subjects is equally suited to the research question, e.g., another class section not taught by the researcher, recruitment by another instructor, or blinded/coded data collected by an associate so that subjects are not identified to the instructor.

  • Students should be given an opportunity to decline participation without jeopardy.
  • Unless the research question is directly related to class material, or the study process is being used as a teaching opportunity, such as in a research methods class, the IRB discourages the use of class time to recruit subjects or class time used to complete study instruments, etc.
  • Use of extra credit points as reward for research participation should be limited to specific circumstances where the research is closely tied to the course subject matter. The number of points awarded should not be sufficient to augment a student's grade by a whole step, e.g., from B to A.
  • The use of financial rewards should also be limited to dollar amounts which are proportionate to the inconvenience of participation.
  • Whenever possible, a teaching opportunity in the form of an "educational debriefing" should be employed. Students should know something about the IRB review process, the rationale for the study, the process of data collection, and intent of the researcher.
More Information

Recruiting Employees

Researchers who include colleagues or subordinates as research subjects must be able to provide a rationale other than convenience for selecting them and must show that the recruitment method does not lead colleagues to think they will be compromised by not participating.

The compromised circumstances and fear of retribution, even subtle cues of compromise, can place colleagues or subordinates in a position of involuntary participation in a research project.

Recruitment through bulletin board advertisements (screened and approved by the IRB), or recruitment through a third party unassociated in a power relationship with the employee are usually the best strategies.