Research Abroad - IRB Requirements

Students who plan to do any research on human subjects while studying off-campus (including interviewing people in the host country) that might possibly be included in a senior thesis, presented at a conference (even Whitman's Undergraduate Conference), or published in any way must have approval from a federally-sanctioned IRB of their off- campus study program, if one exists, or from Whitman’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) BEFORE the research begins. Due to federal laws protecting human subjects, any information a student gathers before getting IRB approval cannot be included in their thesis, conference presentations, or publications.

If a student’s research involves human subjects, there are three options available to them:

  1. If the study abroad program has a federally sanctioned IRB, students should follow their process and obtain approval before the research begins. After a student obtains research approval from their program’s IRB, they should be sure to keep all documentation related to the IRB approval, including the identifying project number, in order to prove that they have gone through the appropriate process upon returning to Whitman. For students attending an SIT program, please note that all SIT programs have a local review board that fulfills IRB requirements.
  2. In the case of programs without a federally sanctioned IRB in place, students may still pursue human-subject research, but will not be able to use their findings in a thesis, publish them or present the research publically in any way.
  3. If a program does not have a federally sanctioned IRB in place, but the Whitman student is working with a Whitman faculty member who is willing to serve as a mentor for their project, then it is possible to apply to the Whitman IRB for approval. To apply for Whitman IRB approval, please see the guidelines at and submit proposals directly to the IRB committee at Questions about the specifics of the requirement can be directed to: Prof Matthew Prull, IRB Chair, Whitman College, at

    When completing the Whitman IRB application, please note that it will ask for the name of a “Faculty Sponsor" and an "Adviser Signature". This must be a faculty member at Whitman. If a student’s primary supervisor for the research project is an academic affiliated with their off-campus program, they should indicate the major adviser in that space and obtain their signature.

    Students should apply for Whitman IRB approval at least THREE WEEKS prior to beginning research, in order to give the Whitman Committee enough time to review their proposal. Keep in mind that the IRB Committee will not meet during Whitman breaks. Proposals submitted less than two weeks prior to the commencement of research will not be accepted.