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New committee legitimizes Marlborough’s on-campus research

Honors Research in Science students who conduct research on Marlborough’s campus will now have to comply with an Institutional Review Board (IRB) comprised of 15 Marlborough faculty members. The IRB will review the ethics of potential student research and modify proposals to ensure the well-being of human and animal subjects.

Allison Ponzio is the head of Marlborough’s new Institutional Review Board.

Most colleges and research institutions have IRBs, and Honors Research in Science Program Head Allison Ponzio hopes that Marlborough’s IRB will legitimize the school’s reputation as a center for research.

Honors Research in Humanities and Social Sciences students will follow a similar process with grant proposal reviews, led by Dean of Student Research Catherine Atwell.

“We’re at this point now in the program where Dr. Atwell and I are trying to promote more research on campus,” Ponzio said. “So, if we’re going to be doing research on campus, we have to have this [IRB] in place so that we have ‘street cred’ with every other research institution.”

Eight current juniors and seniors conduct research on Marlborough’s campus, which entails mostly emailing, calling or surveying subjects. These students have been operating without formal ethical guidance, unlike Marlborough students at local universities who adopt their institution’s IRB. Ponzio hopes the IRB will standardize her students’ research experiences.

“The students have the Understanding and the Honor Code, so theyhave an excellent understanding of what it’s like to be an ethical human. We just want to make sure that they are ethical scientists, too,” Ponzio said.

Board members include Darren Kessner, Lisa Ellis, Mabel Wong, David Long, Deborah Banner, Eric Reinholtz, Melissa Banister, Jena English, Darren Kessner and Judy Mirick. The faculty members span each core subject, the elective system and the administration.

“We wanted a diverse background of people, who are all experts in a variety of matters,” Ponzio said.

Kessner, as well as Ponzio and other mathematics and science teachers, have conducted their own research prior to working at Marlborough, and they can offer advice about scientific procedures and realistic time frames for studies.

“One thing that’s important is that you need to have a proposal that’s doable. That’s sometimes the hardest part,” Kessner said. “For the research that we’re doing here, I think just having extra feedback on not just the ethical issues but on feasibility and reasonability of the project is important.”

The main advantage of researching at Marlborough, according to Ponzio, is that students construct their research projects from start to finish, collecting and analyzing their own data.

“If they actually do it here and it’s verified, that could promote publishing. It can promote presenting in conferences. It opens up a lot of doors that I think were previously non-options or rarities in the way that we used to run the program,” Ponzio said.

The Board will convene in December and begin reviewing student’s research proposals.

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