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Undergraduate Research

Classroom Projects & Independent Student Research Projects

There is often confusion as to which classroom projects and independent student projects must be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board. Generally, a student project involving human subjects falls into one of two categories:

  1. Classroom projects, the goal of which is to provide training as part of a course, and
  2. Directed or independent research projects that employ systematic data collection with the intent to contribute to generalizable knowledge

Classroom projects generally do not require Institutional Review Board oversight, but independent research projects do.

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Classroom Projects Policy

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines human subjects research as “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge” typically involving obtaining information from living individuals. Many forms of human subjects research are subject to Institutional Review Board (IRB) review and approval before they can proceed. This policy describes a change in Smith College IRB policy regarding classroom projects, which includes the study of living persons inside or outside the classroom as part of an academic exercise with the goal of enhancing student learning rather than yielding generalizable knowledge. Classroom projects should be distinguished from special studies, honors theses, and other original research projects that may be published or presented off campus, which typically require IRB review. This policy was put into effect beginning in the fall of 2016. It was revised in January and April 2019.

Classroom projects can proceed without IRB review unless the project is human subjects research and the data may be published or presented outside of Smith College (e.g., the internet, professional conferences, academic journals). If there is even a small chance that information collected for a classroom project might be used to contribute to generalizable knowledge, researchers should seek IRB approval before conducting their study.

Note: If you plan to post information from a classroom project on the internet, it does not automatically require IRB review. Please review the list of other study types that do not fit the IRB’s definition of human subjects research on the Application Process page.

The removal of IRB review of classroom projects removes a layer of protection for participants, the college, and the course instructor. Instructors are expected to use their best judgment in conjunction with current social norms to decide whether to include the IRB in their classroom research planning.

Instructors are responsible for determining whether IRB review or consultation would be prudent (even if not required). IRB review refers to seeking formal IRB approval via the regular IRB review process. IRB consultation refers to asking for advice from the IRB without submitting a proposal.

Application Checklist for Student Projects

To determine if your project requires IRB review, please do the following:

  1. Set up your account in Mentor IRB and take the pre-proposal survey.
  2. Discuss your pre-proposal survey results with your faculty adviser or submit the survey to the IRB chair for verification.

Getting ready to submit your project (independent research, honors thesis, etc.)?

  1. Talk with your faculty adviser about your research plans.
  2. Complete the online CITI ethics training. Remind your faculty adviser to complete the CITI training if they haven't already.
  3. Review the Application Process page & Informed Consent page.
  4. Use the Consent Templates to create a consent document for your study.
  5. Draft the recruitment script/email/flyer for your study. Instructions under Research Methods.
  6. If conducting research internationally, review the International Research page.


If you wish to draft your IRB proposal answers prior to using Mentor IRB, use this set of example questions:


  1. Log in to your Mentor IRB account, go to "My Protocols", and submit your IRB proposal. You will be asked to answer supplemental questions so the IRB has enough information about your study to make a decision.
  2. Attach your consent document(s), recruitment example(s), lists of proposed interview questions and survey questions.
  3. Submit the proposal in Mentor.
  4. Your proposal will go to your faculty adviser for review before going to the IRB. Once you faculty adviser has confirmed their approval of your proposal in Mentor, the IRB will review your proposal.
  5. IRB review: Find the estimated time for each type of review under Review Procedures.

Please review the After IRB Approval section.