Rhetorical Strategies for Working with Institutional Review Boards

Elizabeth L. Angeli and Z. Koppelmann

Computers and Composition Online



Zachery's Narrative: Finding a Mentor

My experience with IRB has taken a different path than Elizabeth’s. The work I did with a previous project was easy to present to the IRB, and there were few issues with the receiving IRB approval. My current project, however, has proven to be more complicated and has required multiple conversations with IRB, not all of which have been as fruitful as expected. However, having a mentor helped me navigate the IRB process more effectively than if I had not sought the help of someone in my department.

I was saved any issue with IRB because of a careful and dedicated principal investigator (PI). The research project involved recording mock commentary to sample student papers. As I created the needed forms—permission, recruitment, etc.—my PI was closely involved, asking many questions and not accepting poorly formed or constructed forms or questions. While the close questioning and examination were frustrating during the drafting, I understood that my PI was taking the IRB’s standpoint, making sure that the IRB’s questions were answered and addressed before the protocol was submitted. My PI understood that all research has risks and benefits, and that I needed to address both, no matter how minimal, to show that I knew what I was doing and that my research was not going to expose anyone involved to unnecessary or unanticipated harm.

Working so closely with my PI took extra time and many revisions, but my PI’s questions and critiques forced me to view the ethics and approach to my research in more nuanced ways. As I was initially designing my research, I never stopped to consider the physical location in which my participants would record their mock commentary. My first few drafts didn’t explain that I planned to conduct post-commentary interviews, or that I planned to keep the participants’ notes—both points that could cause harm to my participants or concern for IRB. Because my PI was intimately involved in my drafting, we were able to have very detailed discussions about my methodology research questions; far more in-depth discussions than we had when I was writing my proposal.

After many drafts, I submitted my application, which was approved with only two typographical errors. My PI mentored me through the process and demonstrated what sort of concerns and questions need to be addressed before conducting any research. With my PI’s mentorship, I better understood the purpose of IRB and was able to refine and polish my research into a stronger, more rigorous project.

My experience through this project was what scholars hope for. The IRB didn’t have any questions about what I was doing and how I was accounting for risks. They clearly understood my methods and goals. There was a learning curve for me that was greatly facilitated by my PI’s mentorship; however, this project provided me with a needed view into ethical and responsible research practices.