Step Four: Research Approval
Any living person from or about whom information is collected for a scholarly study is deemed a "research subject." This surprises many scholars who still think the term refers only to persons involved in clinical or laboratory studies. Further, Harvard's own rules (as well as federal ones) require advance review and approval of most plans for using subjects whom the investigator can identify individually. This holds whether or not the work is funded by outside sources, and regardless of the investigator's area of academic discipline. To view Harvard's overview of Human Subjects research, see the Handbook for Students.
University regulations require that all research be sponsored by a faculty member, i.e., one holding a term or tenure professorial appointment or a senior lecturer. Your supervisor will therefore likely ensure that you understand and abide by the rules governing the use of human research subjects; nevertheless, you should make it your own responsibility to become acquainted with these rules. If you have questions about them, you should certainly consult with your supervisor.
Review of proposed studies is undertaken by the Standing Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research. Some projects may not require full Committee review, and others may be exempt from review altogether. Consult the Committee at (cuhs at fas, 6-2847) if you have any questions about the need to receive Committee approval or about the application process in general. Your application should be written to enable the Committee to judge whether the proposed procedures will adequately safeguard the rights and welfare of the subjects. If information beyond that requested is relevant, you should include it. You should also avoid using professional jargon, for the Committee will include non-psychologists.
You should submit your completed application to the Committee at least ten days prior to the meeting at which the Committee is to review your project, so that the proposal may be circulated in advance to members. If your proposal is unclear, the Committee may postpone action until a later meeting. The Committee is also reluctant to act outside of scheduled meetings. The meeting schedule is available here: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~research/hum_sub/index.html#schedule
If your thesis or research project includes the collection of information from or about living individuals, be sure to check with the Committee to determine if prior Committee review is required. Their website is: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~research/hum_sub/