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Postdoc Surveys and the IRB
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When conducting a survey of your postdoc community, you may need to seek approval from your institution's Institutional Review Board (IRB). Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about IRB approval for such surveys as well as some examples for how to go about obtaining these approvals.

Does your Survey need IRB Approval?

To answer this question, ask yourself what you plan to do with the information you collect. If your answer is, "We plan to use the results only inside the institution to improve our PDA;" then you do not need IRB approval for your survey. If your answer is, "We plan to present the results at the NPA meeting, or post the results on an external website, or send them to another PDA, or use them in a grant application;" then, yes, you need IRB approval. If your answer is, "I haven't thought that far ahead;" then go ahead and get IRB approval just in case. Once you've collected the data it is too late to go back.

Why would a Survey need IRB Approval?

If you want to publicly share your survey results outside of the institution, you are doing research and must apply for exemption from the federal requirements for the protection of human research subjects. Individual researchers can not determine their own exemption, but an institutional review board (IRB) is authorized to do so through Health and Human Services Regulations [45 CFR 46.101(b)]. PDA surveys that assess postdoc needs or curriculum desires typically would be exempt under Category 1, which refers to common educational settings. (see for more information)

If you are not collecting personal identity information (e.g., name, social security number, etc.), respondent anonymity is assured. This strengthens the case for exemption status and typically waives the need for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization.

What do I need to Submit to the IRB?

Each IRB review process is different, and therefore you should communicate with your IRB office to ensure that you submit all the information they need to make their decision. If your survey is likely to be exempt from full IRB approval, be sure to follow the procedure for seeking exemption (which is shorter and easier). However, here are some general components that are typically required.

1) Identify the study personnel
Note: Study personnel include anyone involved in administering the study or processing data. These individuals should complete your institution's human subject training requirements. For example at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, study personnel are required to maintain a current Human Subjects certification using the online CITI course.

2) A study protocol
See Example IRB Protocol

3) Justification of your exemption under Category 1
Note: This can be as short as a few sentences that state why the survey is considered traditional education information (e.g., Results of this survey will impact the offering and development of workshops offered by the PDA over the coming year.).

4) The intended survey

5) Any advertisement material (e.g., flyers, e-mails) used to contact survey respondents
See Example IRB E-mail Ad

Note: It is important to obtain consent from study subjects prior to them completing the survey (called "informed consent"). Notice the statement, "Completing the survey indicates your willingness to participate in the research study." In this way, we ensure that subjects have consented to a research project, yet we do not have a consent form that contains their name.

Here you can see an example of a fully completed IRB exemption form, keeping in mind that this form is specific only to the Wake Forest University School of Medicine IRB and is provided only for illustrative purposes: Example IRB Form

If you still have questions about IRB approval, contact your local IRB or research compliance office.

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