Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IU revises Ph.D. research guidelines

By Caitlin Ryan | IDS
Feb. 22, 2011


Ph.D. students can no longer serve as principal investigators of their own work.

In January, the Office of Research Administration at Indiana University released a change in policy regarding principal investigators on studies involving human subjects. According to this new policy, the PI of a student’s work must be one of the individuals listed on the Human Subject Office’s website as an academic appointee eligible for this title.

Among those eligible are faculty members such as professors or assistant professors, librarians, deans, chancellors and research staff. Students, lecturers, teachers and research associates are no longer allowed to hold the title of principal investigator on research approved by the University.

Dr. Peter Finn, chairman of the Institutional Review Board, helped to make the final decision regarding the policy.

The rationale behind this change is that students are only “temporarily affiliated with the University,” thus it is more suitable for a tenured faculty member to oversee information.

“Faculty members are much more accountable to the University than students. Technically, in the past, the faculty member advising the project should have been responsible, but they weren’t always ... this change in policy puts more of the responsibility on them,” Finn said.

This policy does not change the way graduate students conduct research, but leads to questions regarding responsibility versus ownership of research.

Marda Rose, a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic linguistics, said she is concerned.
“By writing the professor’s name as the principal investigator on the project, the student no longer has a written document that clearly states that the research he or she is conducting is his or her own,” she said. “What is at stake is who is getting credit for the research.”

Other graduate students have expressed their concern regarding awareness of the new policy.

Traci Nagle, another Ph.D. candidate at IU, said “I found out about (the policy change) only when a friend called it to my attention ... I was not notified of this policy decision by the Human Subject’s office. Had my friend not told me about it, I probably would not have found out about it until I had to submit a Continuing Review in October.”

Existing studies will not be modified to reflect the new policy until the next “amendment.” Finn said an e-mail announcement was sent out regarding the new policy.

“The key issue here is that the person who is the principal investigator on the IRB (form) is not the same as the person who is the principal investigator doing the research,” Finn said. “The students remain the principal investigator on their own study, but under their faculty member.”

Finn said there are a variety of avenues for students to pursue through the University and the Human Subjects Office if they are concerned about who would be accredited with being the primary author on their study.

“Being the principal investigator on the IRB (form) does not confer authorship or ownership of the data,” Finn said.