Starr hamming it up for a selfportrait

Dissertation Update: Submitted for IRB Approval

Yep, I write about my dissertation a lot. I’d call it an obsession, if it wasn’t my current day job. If you’re really hungry for more, you can–at your own peril!–read an abstract of my dissertation, or read other posts about my dissertation progress.

After my successful dissertation proposal defense (yay!), I spent some time revising my research questions according to my committee’s feedback. This consisted of the following cycle:

  1. Re-read questions and notes and THINK until smoke comes out ears.
  2. Eureka moment! Rewrite question and proudly email to advisor.
  3. Advisor responds, wisely (and helpfully) pointing out how question is irrelevant/redundant/unintelligible and also not inferential or original enough.
  4. Depths of dispair. Distract self with email/research/blog/Internet Of All The Distractions. Paw through cabinets looking for brownie mix and come up empty-handed. Eat stale crackers.
  5. Back to step one!

This went on for a few weeks, and then–finally!–I got those questions shaped into something useful. This was largely thanks to a Skype call with my advisor, in which he helped me pummel my train of thought into shape. He emailed me back saying we were ready to submit the application for IRB review.

Gulp.

You may ask, what’s the IRB? For an academic (or at least a grad student), it’s a dreaded acronym that stands for Institutional Review Board. They’re designed to ensure that researchers at an institution perform any research involving human subjects with care and ethical behavior. Thus, if you’re performing research involving human subjects while you are faculty (or a student, at least for theses/dissertations) at an institution, you must first submit your study for approval by that institution’s IRB. In actuality, it’s a great system in place to protect study participants. Despite this, those of us doing behavioral science (rather than the more obvious risks of medical or even psychological studies) can find the process to be a hassle.

Luckily, UNT is one of those places with an awesome expedited-approval process for short non-risky surveys like mine, known as a Minimal Review Application. Since I’m not, say, asking pregnant women to smoke while walking a well-oiled tightrope suspended from the Chrysler Building and answering questions about childhood traumas (!), I simply have to fill out a four-page form and attach a copy of my survey and the informed consent notice I’ll be using. (The informed consent basically tells participants what the study is about, what is expected of them, how the study hopes to be useful, and to let participants know that they’re under no obligation to complete the survey, etc. etc.)

Oddly, the most difficult part of the entire expedited form was writing the single-paragraph “purpose of the study.” This section asks what the study is about, why it’s being conducted, and what the research questions are. But the problem is–my revised research questions are over a paragraph by themselves… and I still had some explaining about the what and why of the study to include. Making that information concise and clear took some time. Then I took a two-week European road trip (yes, updates on that are coming! really!) and completely forgot/ignored my application until we got back this week. Egads. 

The upside is, I submitted the completed application today, and received an email from the IRB saying to expect an answer within 10 business days. That’s spectacular, and in the meantime I can use those two weeks to revise my Literature Review. Um. Yippee… I think.

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