Two Interviews Completed (Update 2)

Despite a frustrating experience with the Institutional Review Board, my research was approved by the PHSC at the end of July. Since then, I have advertised my research project on a local college’s campus. I chose not to interview William and Mary students because the campus is so small and I didn’t want to speak to anyone I knew personally – even if only tangentially. So far, I have completed two interviews. My advisor and I had previously been hoping to amass 10 total participants, but with the late start we have lowered our expectations to around 5 participants. The process of analyzing the interviews and finding themes is just as, if not more important, as the interviews themselves in generating a final product I can be proud of. While this will significantly decrease the generalizability of my study, this research was always meant to serve as a simple pilot study; I had not expected to be able to make sweeping claims about all women and their experiences in the health care system. At the very heart of this study is my intuitive belief that each woman’s experience is unique, and – while there is likely general trends – those unique experiences are relevant enough to look deeply into. As Audre Lorde said, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

Given the changing trajectory of my research, I am anticipating including a section in my final paper about my interactions with the IRB. I have completed a very brief literature review of  relevant articles. The first, “Assessing Risk to Researchers”, uses sexuality research as an example of IRBs’ “moral undertones” restricting research (Webber and Brunger 2018:1). The second article, “Paradoxical Privilege of Men”, argues that IRBs are both gendered and gendering institutions. While the authors focus on how this restricts research into men’s lives, I don’t think it’s much of a reach to argue that it equally restricts research into women’s lives. The authors argue that IRBs reproduce social inequalities due to their concern for protecting (in our case) “male medical doctors” (Barnes and Munsch 2015:595). “Standard Bearers” focuses on how IRBs weren’t designed for social science and/or qualitative research. Babb, Birk, and Carfagna argue that IRBs’ “standardized communication and standardized decision-templates” alongside the fact that “qualitative interview research is inherently unpredictable, difficult to routinize, and unamenable to description through standardized bureaucratic language” limit qualitative researchers’ opportunities (2016:99). The last article, “Sensitive Topics Research”, has a pretty straightforward conclusion: that “individual difference and demographic risk factors do not increase participant distress after participating in sex/trauma research over and above that experienced after participating in traditionally minimal-risk cognitive tasks” (Rinehart, Nason, Yeater, and Miller 2017:273). This tells us that any perceived psychological risks alarming IRBs could very well be nonexistent – at the very least demonstrating that rejecting sex-related research on the basis of perceived risks may be unfounded.


  1. I’m glad to hear that the research got approved! I hope the interviews went well, and I’m curious to know what the selection process was on the interviewees. I think it’s very interesting to explore the sexism (if any) inherent in the IRBs, and what changes could be implemented in order for more qualitative and sex-related research to be approved.