The Institutional Review Board (IRB) was created to ensure that research involving human participants complies with ethical standards set by the federal Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which operates within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  Proposals for behavioral, biomedical or other human participants research to be conducted at or supported by Spring Hill College are subject to review by the Board and such research may not be conducted without Board approval.
In the event that this policies and procedures document does not cover a specific aspect of the review process, the Board will follow the guidelines found in OHRP Reports: The Belmont Report (1979) or OHRP Reports: Protection of Human Participants, Title 45, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 46 (rev. 2001) or any later revisions to these publications.
If you are uncertain as to whether you need to complete an IRB application, please review the information in the IRB Policies and Procedures document or contact the IRB Chair using the contact information below.  

Rationale for a College Policy

The IRB exists for several reasons. First, a college-wide policy reflects Spring Hill College's commitment to basic ethical principles and provides a consistent application of those principles across disciplines involved in behavioral or biomedical research. Second, this policy provides an environment in which students directly learn and apply ethical principles. Third, federal funding agencies require that all grant applications be reviewed and approved by an Institutional Review Board that ensures ethical compliance.

IRB Committee

Chair of the IRB: Dr. Tom Hoffman, Associate Professor of Political Science

IRB Committee Members/SHC Faculty:

  • Dr. Anindya Biswas, Associate Professor of Finance & Economics
  • Dr. Don Culberson, Professor of Biology

Community Member:

  • Chalisse Peltier, Healthcare Social Worker at SAAD Healthcare


*For all inquiries related to human subjects research, consult Dr. Tom Hoffman at 

Dr. Hoffman is available to visit classes to explain the IRB process and determining if student projects qualify officially as "research."

Recruiting Participants

If you are conducting IRB approved research on campus and need participants, you may post your research on the Research Board in Quinlan Hall next to QH320. Please include the following information:

Name of Project
Dates  of Project
Principal Investigator
Faculty Sponsor (if student is PI)
IRB Number 
Type of Project (e.g., online or in-person questionnaire, experiment)
Expected duration (e.g., 15 minutes)
Location and Time
Please include all of the above information on a sheet of paper, with lines for students to sign up (name and email or phone). 
Please include information regarding how they will get course credit or extra-credit. For example, students might print out the final page of an online questionnaire or show their professor the debriefing statement. 
Please see IRB pages or contact Dr. Tom Hoffman at for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

IRB Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What exactly qualifies as “research”?
    • Research is a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.
    • “A "systematic investigation" is an activity that involves a prospective plan that incorporates data collection, either quantitative or qualitative, and data analysis to answer a question.”*
    • See the next question for the definition of generalizability.
  2. What is "generalizability?" What level of generalizability must be present in my work for it to qualify as IRB-submission-worthy?
      • The idea with generalizability is that you’re attempting to say that the results you found may apply to other people and situations, particularly to “real life” situations (rather than just in a lab).
      • See this definition shared by UC-Irvine’s IRB: “Investigations designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge are those designed to draw general conclusions, inform policy, or generalize findings beyond a single individual or an internal program (e.g., publications or presentations). However, research results do not have to be published or presented to qualify the experiment or data gathering as research.”*
  3. If I intend to display my work at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, must I submit to IRB?
    • You do not necessarily have to submit to IRB for approval in order to present at the U.R.S. However, consult your faculty advisor, because you need to submit an application to the IRB if you plan to present any data collected from participants (human subjects).
    • If your work is a class project and you don’t involve people in any type of research, then you don’t need to submit an application. (See the definition of “research” above)
  4. If I don't intend to make my work accessible to the public in any way, does that mean (regardless of risk), that I don't have to submit to IRB?
    • Regardless of whether you’ll share the results, if the project involves humans, then it’s possible there’s some level of risk. If you’re in doubt about your project being research or involving any risk, please consult your faculty advisor and the IRB chair.
    • If you will only present the results of your project within the class the information was gathered from, and the material isn’t sensitive, you do not need to submit an IRB application.
  5. If I have designed a project, and my only use of humans is to ask their impression of the project (ex., "What are your impressions of the film I've directed?"), do I need to submit to IRB? (Does the answer change when I carry out the same project, with intentions to display the work publicly?)
    • If the only participation people give for your project is providing their response or opinion to something, you may not need to submit an IRB application. You will, however, need to submit an application if: 1) the material is sensitive or disturbing in any way, or 2) the participants will be identified in your results/product.
    • See this definition of “human subjects research” from the National Institute of Health: “Research is considered to involve human subjects when an investigator conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with a living individual, or (2) identifiable private information about a living individual.”*
  6. When I've asked a human to give me feedback for my project, and the exercise takes longer than 30 minutes, should I submit to IRB?
    • There is no specific cut-off with time required to participate in an exercise making it “research.” However, if it takes up more than a few minutes of someone’s time, it may be considered research. (See the definition of “research” above.)
  7. Could you clarify about documentary films and journalistic projects? In those, I'm interviewing people, and it's clear to them that they may choose to participate or bow out. If the questions are controversial or tough, does that mean I should submit to IRB?
    • The IRB honors students' rights of free expression in the production of journalistic and documentary film projects that attempt to inform or entertain audiences or -- in some cases -- advocate certain positions. The questions asked in such projects need not undergo IRB review. Journalists and film-makers are reminded the ethics of informing subjects of publicity about the possible risks of expressing their opinions publicly. The use of signed waivers is encouraged.
  8. Is parental permission required for research participation for those who are 18 years old, since the age of consent in Alabama is 19 years old?
    • No. In May 2015, Governor Bentley signed Act 2015-167 into law, lowering the age of consent to 18 years for participants in IRB-approved research conducted by federally accredited colleges and universities. Therefore, parental permission is no longer required for 18 year olds who may now provide their own consent to participate in IRB-approved research.

If the faculty advisor of a student project is unsure whether the project should be considered "Human Subjects Research," please contact the Chair of the IRB, Dr. Tom Hoffman at 

*Information taken from:

For more information

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are federally-mandated, locally-administered groups charged with evaluating risks and benefits of human participant research at their institution 

American Psychological Association

American Sociological Association

United States Department of Health and Human Services

National Institutes of Health

Resources for Research Ethics Education

Food and Drug Administration

Policies and Process Procedures