Protection of Human Subjects

"Above all, I will do no harm" is a pledge that all anthropologists make when starting research into human lives. The members of the Anthropology Department of Princeton University, both undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty, must abide by that commitment. To do so requires vigilance, informed imagining of the social relationships that will make one's research project possible, and sincere efforts to foresee the consequences of one's research and public revelation of its content to mitigate harmful effects. Careful and explicit discussion of one's methods and expected end products with all who become involved is necessary so that they can give a genuinely well-informed consent to their participation. They need to know whether or not they are going to be asked to take risks greater than those commonly experienced in everyday life.

The University-Wide Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects (IRB)

To aid university researchers in avoiding harmful practices, a faculty committee reviews all proposed projects, conducted in the university, whether they are faculty, graduate students or undergraduates. This is the Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects. Its members are from all the social sciences together with community members and a university physician and lawyer. Approval of a project by the IRB is required before starting on it.

Information and forms for submitting IRB applications can be found here. Prior to submitting an IRB application, certification of the completion of a human subjects training program is required.  Normally, all students in Anthropology 301 (The Ethnographer's Craft) will complete the required training and gain certification as part of the course. In the spring term of each academic year the Anthropology Department organizes an IRB boot camp for Anthropology majors and Ethnographic Studies certificate students.  An administrator from the IRB is available at this workshop to answer questions to help students prepare their IRB applications for submission. For summer research, Anthropology majors should plan to complete their IRB approval process no later than the end of June.

Advice to Undergraduate Anthropology Majors

Very generally:

  1. Be prepared, and be prepared for the unexpected.  ANT 301 (The Ethnographer's Craft) is intended to prepare students for the realities of field research.
  2. Never hide the fact that you are doing research.
  3. If working within an institution, such as an eating club, or athletic team, get permission from its highest official. If you want to use your involvement in a summer or academic year work situation, whether paid or voluntary, be sure to get your employer's permission for your research.
  4. Respect your interlocutors: do not engage in gossip (even with close friends) about the people you are studying and do your best to avoid harming their reputations.
  5. Keep all your notes out of hands of casual readers. Keep them out of sight, for instance in a locked drawer, whether or not you believe that they contain confidential information.