Become an IRB Member

What is the role of an IRB Member?

The IRB is charged with review of proposed research protocols in order to ensure that the rights of human subjects are protected and that risk of harm to subjects is minimized. The framework for protection of human subjects is set in Federal regulation. Committee members ensure compliance with University of Iowa policies and procedures, federal regulations, and state and local laws relative to the review of human subjects research studies.

If you have an interest medical or social science research and would like to be involved with protecting the rights, safety and welfare of individuals who volunteer to participate in research, this volunteer opportunity may be for you.  At the University of Iowa (UI), faculty, staff and student in many academic disciplines conduct research that involves human participants (or subjects).  The University of Iowa Institutional Review Board (IRB) oversees the ethical conduct of research at both the UI and at the Veterans Administration Health Care System (VAHCS).  IRB members play an essential role in this review process and bring diverse backgrounds and experience to the review of research applications. 

The Human Subjects Office (HSO) is the administrative office that supports three UI IRBs.  The boards specialize in the review of biomedical, social/behavioral, research occurring with veterans at the Iowa City VA Hospital.  HSO staff are involved in reviewing IRB applications, administrative support and scheduling for board meetings, compliance monitoring and education and outreach activities.  HSO staff also recruit and provide initial training and ongoing education for all IRB members and HSO staff. 

Diverse Membership

In compliance with federal regulations, UI IRB membership is diverse with respect to scientific background and expertise, gender, race, ethnicity and affiliation.  This allows for a better review of research proposals since each member brings unique expertise to the discussion.  The board includes members who:

  • have training in scientific fields and others who do not have a science background or training (non-scientist members)  
  • are UI faculty and staff and VA employees and others who are not affiliated with the UI or VAHCS (community members)

Community Members

Unaffiliated community members play an important role on the IRB.  They bring fresh insight and perspective to board decisions about how best to protect research participants. The Community Member has the particular responsibility of bringing the perspective of the volunteer research participant to the review of protocols.  Community members do not have a current affiliation with the UI or VA and must not have had one for the past two years.  They also must not have an immediate family member (spouse or child) affiliated with either institution.

Non-Scientist Members

IRB members with a non-scientific background may be employed at the UI or VA or they may be community members.  There must be a non-scientist member at every IRB meeting.

IRB Membership

IRB members review research proposals in an electronic application system called HawkIRB.  The board discussion is focused on making sure the study design and procedures meet a set of eight regulatory criteria required for IRB approval.   In brief, those are:

  • Research design is sound and study hypothesis is reasonable Risks to subjects are minimized
  • Risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits
  • Selection of subjects is equitable.
  • Informed consent is obtained or appropriately waived from all prospective subjects and documented
  • The research protocol includes a plan for data and safety monitoring
  • Subject’s privacy and confidentiality are protected
  • Appropriate additional safeguards are incorporated for any vulnerable subjects     

To become an IRB member, we ask:  

  • Members are asked to make a minimum of a three-year commitment to serving on the board.
  • Members agree to attend one or two IRB meetings per month on the University of Iowa Campus.  Parking passes are provided for non-UI employees.
  • The time commitment is approximately 4-8 hours per month. Meetings last 1-2 hours and the 5-8 members attending each meeting must review study materials in advance to prepare for the discussion.  
  • There is an initial training process and members also complete a monthly continuing education activity.
  • IRB review is focused on protecting the rights and safety of research participants, or subjects.
  • There are three IRBs at the University of Iowa, reviewing different types of research.  IRB members typically serve on just one of these boards, but community members may serve on more than one board.

We’re happy to answer your questions about becoming an IRB member.  For more information, contact:

  • the Director of the Human Subjects Office by phone (319-335-6564) or e-mail:

Additional information is available about each IRB and the new member training requirements.  A IRB Member brochure is also available.