Does my Research Require Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval?

If you have questions or concerns about whether your research requires IRB approval after reading the information below, contact the IRB chair, Dr. Cathy Crosby, at or (315) 229-5167.

PLEASE NOTE: At St. Lawrence, all “research” with “human participants”, as those terms are defined by the federal regulations, is subject to review by the full IRB.  The information below will help you determine whether your research fits within those definitions.  Note the one exemption regarding class projects.

Larger institutions will often have three levels of review – exempt, expedited and full board – but given the size of our institution, we are able to provide our human participants with a higher level of protection than is required by the federal regulations.

IRB approval of your project is required if it meets two conditions:

1)     it is conducted using "human participants", and

2)    it falls within the definition of "research" for purposes of the federal guidelines.

Condition 1 – The research involves human participants:

A "human participant" is a living individual who is the subject of the study about whom an investigator (faculty, staff, or student) conducting a project obtains:

  • information through intervention or interaction with the individual OR
  • identifiable private information.

Examples of research included within this definition:

  • Laboratory-based research projects
  • Anonymous on-line surveys
  • Observations of behavior the participants would expect to be private
  • Private records that are readily identifiable as belonging to specific individuals

Examples of research excluded from this definition and hence exempt from IRB review:

  • Research using informants or content experts who are providing information based on their expertise or position, and the subject of the inquiry is their area of expertise, not the participant themselves
  • Naturalistic observations of individuals engaging in public behavior about which they would have no expectation of privacy
  • Private records where the researcher would be unable to link an individual record to a specific person under any circumstances
Condition 2 – The research falls within the federal definition of research requiring IRB approval:

"Research" is defined as a systematic (not necessarily “scientific”) investigation, where there is a plan/strategy/procedure/methodology to: 

  • select and recruit participants; AND
  • develop/use an instrument/procedure for collecting information from the participants (e.g., interview questions or guides, focus group protocols, surveys, experimental procedures, etc.); AND
  • make use of the information collected to contribute to generalizable knowledge. The definition of “generalizable knowledge” includes one or more of the following:

               >   the results, information, findings, data are intended for scholars, practitioners, and/or researchers within a field of study
               >   the results, information, findings, data will be publicly disseminated or presented (or may, at some point in the future, be publicly accessible) in any form
               >   results/findings can be applied to some population in addition to the immediate participants (sample) in the study
               >   the study can be replicated by others

Examples of projects excluded from this definition and hence exempt from IRB review:

  • Instructor/student evaluations used solely by the institution
  • Activities conducted for quality improvement/assurance/assessment intended solely for internal institutional use
  • Oral histories that focus specifically on the individuals from whom information is gathered
Exemption for Class Projects:

Currently, St. Lawrence exempts from the need for IRB approval research that would not otherwise be exempt if it is a class-related data/information collection project using human participants conducted solely for pedagogical purposes where the results are not disseminated beyond the classroom. 

You are strongly encouraged to seek IRB approval is there is any possibility that the results of the class project will be disseminated, for example, at one of the spring festivals or on the web.  Retroactive IRB approval is not possible.