Human Research When Studying Abroad

Students conducting research with human participants when abroad are required to first have their work approved by the University of Richmond IRB before carrying out the project.

Study abroad programs vary, but such programs as the School of International Training (SIT) or the School for Field Studies (SFS) ofen require students complete a research project in their host countries. If those projects involve research with human participants, it would be necessary students to have those projects reviewed by the University of Richmond Institutional Review Board (URIRB) before they begin those projects. That can sometimes be difficult when you are abroad, with limited access to supporting online resources. Review and approval of research projects is nonetheless required.

1. All students, staff, and faculty who conduct research with human subjects must complete online training in the ethics of human research. Details about completing that training can be found on the University of Richmond's IRB website. Completing that training is step one in the research project. Your project will not even be reviewed by URIRB if you have not completed the ethics training--so I would recommend you complete that task now, before going abroad.

2. Some types of studies can be exempted from the federal regulations for research. Some projects, too, will not be considered research. Other studies, with vulnerable populations (e.g., children, prisoners) are usually not approved. Students should get in touch with the IRB (at should they have questions, as individual researchers cannot make that determination.

3. International programs and institutions (e.g., SIT/SFS) often have their own Institutional Review Board, and students may be required to submit their project to that Board. After they complete that process and receive approval, they must then submit the documentation to the URIRB for a second review. So, they must often deal with two (or more) IRBs. URIRB will not make a determination until the proposal has been approved by the local IRB since the key issue for URIRB is risk assessment, and it relies on the more localized IRB to provide a more informed analysis of risk in non-US locations.

4. The review of international research review requires more time than US-based research proposals. If a study requires direct interaction with citizens in another country, a full-board review by the URIRB is usually needed to properly assess risk. And because approval sometimes requires a cycle of submission-revision-resubmission, the study may require a second review by the board. So, students planning to conduct research when abroad should review the timetable for the IRB meetings to determine when they should submit their research materials. They should allow 3 weeks (minimum) for initial review; if the project requires revision and second review, they may need as much as 6 weeks to complete the process.

5. URIRB will ask you complete the the standard application form available at, but also the form required for international research.

6. Logistics when dealing with the IRB from a distance can be difficult. Researchers may wish to enlist the support of a member of the faculty to act as their advisor and proxy on the project.