IRB Community Member Frequently Asked Questions

The University of Pittsburgh Institutional Review Board (IRB) is responsible for oversight of all human subject research conducted by staff, faculty and students at the University of Pittsburgh and the UPMC institutions.  You can learn more about the IRB from the Human Research Protection (HRP) page.

IRB members come from a variety of backgrounds and it is important to have representation from the surrounding community.  The mission of an IRB community member is to help to protect the rights and welfare of those individuals volunteering as research subjects.  Community members are not required to have a scientific background.  In fact, most have no scientific background.  Each brings their individual knowledge and community experiences to the discussion to reflect the perspective of the volunteer research participants.

What experience is necessary? 

No experience is necessary to become a community member.  In fact, it is preferred that our community members have no scientific background in order to represent the interests of research participants.  Effective community members have good communication skills, are comfortable speaking to others in a meeting setting, like to read, and are comfortable working on a computer and a web-based system.  

What is the time commitment? 

Each member is asked to attend one committee meeting per month.  The meetings generally last about 2 hours and take place on weekdays at 2:00pm or 3:00pm.  All meetings are taking place virtually at this time. Members typically spend 3-4 hours per month preparing for the meeting.  Members must attend the majority of meetings to participate.  

What training do I receive?

All new members must complete an orientation session and observe at least one IRB meeting as well as attend a session to learn about our online submission system, PittPRO.  Each member must also complete online education modules about IRB membership, Responsible Conduct of Research and Research with Human Subjects.  Members learn the function of the IRB, regulations surrounding human subject research and how to apply them to the protocol under review.

Who else is on the IRB Committee?

Each IRB committee is made up of at least 10 members.  The members may be faculty physicians, psychologists, nurses, social workers, physical therapists or other health care professionals.  All committees have non-scientists as well.  Each committee is run by a Vice Chair and an IRB staff member.

What will I review for the meetings?

Each member is asked to review a description of research plan (protocol), consent forms and any associated materials. Some of the protocols are technical, but we ask non-scientific community members to focus on the consent forms to determine how clearly and completely the investigator explains his/her research plans and any associated risks. The protocols come from all departments in the University and represent a wide variety of topics.  No scientific background is necessary and is preferred for our community members.  The physicians and other scientists on the committee are responsible for the medical review.    

What happens at the meeting?

At the committee meeting, all members present their comments and concerns (verbally and in writing) which are discussed by the entire committee.  The Committee members come to a consensus on the issues related to the protocol and vote on whether it should proceed. The materials are provided through our online submission system, PittPRO and all members post their comments through the systems.  In order to be effective, members need to be comfortable and have a working understanding of computers, the internet and virtual meeting platforms (e.g. Zoom, Teams).  

What if I have a conflict of interest?  

You can learn more about conflict of interest from the University’s Conflict of Interest Office. A potential or actual conflict of interest arises when an individual's commitments and obligations to the University or to widely recognized professional norms are likely to be compromised by a person's other interests or commitments, particularly economic, especially if those interests or commitments are not disclosed. Members cannot participate in the discussion or vote on a protocol if a conflict of interest is identified.

Do I get paid? 

You do not get paid for participation on the IRB.  Community members may be reimbursed for home internet service (up to $50/month).

Who should I contact for more information?

Please contact to learn more about IRB membership.  We are sure you will the find experience to be very rewarding.