Become an IRB Member

Interested in Becoming an IRB Member?

If you have an interest in 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 opportunity may be for you. At Harvard, faculty, staff, and students in many academic disciplines conduct research that involves human participants (or subjects). The HUA (Harvard University Area) Institutional Review Board (IRB) oversees the ethical conduct of research at Harvard’s Cambridge and Allston campuses. IRB members play an essential role in this review process and bring diverse backgrounds and experience to the review of research applications.

What is the role of an IRB Member?

The IRB is charged with review of proposed research protocols 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 Harvard policies and procedures, federal regulations, and state and local laws relative to the review of human subjects research studies.

An overview of the different types of members that comprise our IRB:

Affiliated / Community (Unaffiliated) Members

Affiliated members are affiliated with Harvard University in some way, either as faculty, staff, or a student.

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 responsibility of bringing the perspective of the volunteer research participant to the review of protocols. Community members do not have a current affiliation with Harvard. They also must not have an immediate family member (spouse or child) affiliated with the institution.

Scientist Members/ Non-Scientist Members

Members whose training, background, and occupation would incline them to view scientific activities from the standpoint of someone within a behavioral or biomedical research discipline should be considered a scientist member. The scientist member provides their expertise and experience to the research that they review and should have sufficient knowledge of the specific scientific discipline(s) relevant to the research.

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

IRB Members Task

IRB members review research proposals in an electronic application system called ESTR. The board discussion is focused on making sure the study design and procedures meet a set of 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:

  • Should have interest and general aptitude for reviewing research proposals prior to each meeting
  • Must complete IRB member training
  • Must have the ability to attend IRB meetings (once a month)
  • Make a minimum of a one-year commitment to serving on the board.
  • 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.

If this sounds like something that may be of interest, send an email with the text "IRB Member" in the subject line to with the following information:

  • Your Name
  • Contact Information
  • Attach a brief resume outlining your experience

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

Please see the IRB Member brochure (pdf) for more information.