Academic Partnerships & Initiatives
Matthew Waller
Chief of Staff, Student Affairs

Considerations for Recruiting UGA Student Research Participants

Requests for research on and with University of Georgia (UGA) student populations doubled between 2014 and 2018. This does not account for the numerous additional studies conducted for the purposes of coursework. Because participation in research and other studies has the potential to positively or negatively impact students and their college experience, it is important that researchers carefully consider targeting UGA students as participants in their studies.

This resource serves as a guide to help researchers plan for studies that target UGA student populations.

Is a student-based population appropriate for my study?

  • It can be easy to ascribe characteristics of the desired population to a convenient sample of the population. Consider whether the sample you’ve selected is representative of the population you wish to study. For instance, researching students at UGA is not representative of a study designed to broadly examine young adults.
  • Falling under IRB’s justice principle, particular participants should not be selected solely based upon convenience. Consider both the selection and enrollment process and the distribution of risk and benefits expected from the research. For instance, research on topics relevant to young adults (e.g., job seeking) may have equal importance and applicability for a local community member who may not have transportation to come to campus or have ready access to a computer. The results of the research may benefit the larger group, but only if they were included in the study so that their perspectives are also considered.
  • If you determined that a UGA student population is necessary or appropriate for your study, it is important to consider how the students will benefit beyond participation incentives. Consider how to better balance the distribution of costs and benefits involved in participation. For instance, perhaps access to their personal data could be of benefit or the results will be used to develop an intervention in which they could participate.
  • Some sub-populations of students will require special permissions before conducting research targeting that group. Consider whether you need to obtain consent from a third party before conducting research with a sub-population of students. For instance, studies specifically targeting student athletes must receive permission from the Athletic Association and research that involves students not considered adults (under 18 in Georgia) requires parental consent unless the IRB approves a waiver.
  • Policies and procedures about recruiting student research participants varies by institution. For instance, some IRBs will review all projects that involve their students as participants regardless of who is conducting the research, whereas others (like UGA), only require review from the researchers’ home institution(s).

Is my study truly voluntary?

  • UGA students have the right to their educational curriculum to be separate from research participation. Unless the research directly relates to the course content, class time should not be used for research activities and instructors should avoid recruiting from within their classrooms. Investigators who are the student-participants’ instructors or who are determining grades or placement in a program should not be involved in direct recruitment. FERPA prohibits sending direct recruitment email only to students who are members of specific groups based on gender, age, race, or ethnicity, or to students in specific courses.
  • Every effort should be made to ensure that students understand that participation in research is voluntary. Consider whether the time provided to give consent, the setting, or the researcher may impact voluntariness. For instance, private settings are preferred over group settings when the research is on a sensitive topic to mitigate group pressure to participate. Additionally, students should be assured that no aspect of their educational record or trajectory will be impacted by their decision to participate, which can often be alleviate when someone other than the instructor-researcher conducts the study.
  • Incentives serve as a way to motivate participation. From this lens, incentives influence decisions to participate. Consider the extent to which that influence is appropriate. For instance, offering a gift card may result in undue influence for students with a low socio-economic background. If extra credit is offered to students who agree to participate, students must be offered an alternate activity by which they can earn the credit. The non-research option must be of equal duration and effort as the research activity.

How will the incentive bias the sample?

  • The type of incentive offered may be more appealing to some groups of students than to others. Consider whether your incentive is broadly appealing to the entire population of students you want to recruit. For instance, entry into a drawing for a tablet may only be appealing to students who don’t already own a tablet, whereas a gift card for a restaurant or coffee shop has a broader appeal.

How can I protect my sample from unintended harm?

  • Inclusive research practices attend to three primary factors: including participants who may otherwise be excluded; ensuring participants are included in the research rather than subject to the research; and being attentive to why it is important to conduct research in an inclusionary rather than exclusionary manner (Veck & Hall, 2020). Even if you have a select population, consider whether your practices are inclusive within that population. For instance, including a marginalized student population may include those who are otherwise excluded, but if marginalized voices have not been included in the research design, the students may be subject to the research and may be further marginalized due to the research practices utilized.
  • People select labels for various aspects of themselves—their talents, characteristics, and identities—that are most meaningful for them. Consider whether your research practices place labels on students they wouldn’t otherwise choose for themselves and whether those labels will further marginalize them. For instance, if recruitment materials seek Black students, do not interchange the terms Black and African-American during the study since not all Black students have African roots.
  • Any type of resource a student receives due to enrollment in postsecondary education must be reported to the Office of Student Financial Aid to ensure that a student’s full aid does not exceed their cost of attendance. Therefore, offering an incentive for participation in a research study that recruits solely from a student population requires disclosure of that incentive/resource. Consider whether the incentive you offer has a significant enough value to impact the aid vs. cost of attendance ratio. For instance, a $1,000 prize drawing is more likely to impact the ratio than a $5 gift card.
  • When information is sensitive or protected by additional regulations, investigators should retain identifiers only as necessary to complete data collection and should not label sensitive data with direct identifiers (use codes and a code key) instead. Consider your naming conventions, electronic data protection, and physical security of the devices on which the data is stored

How do I protect the confidentiality of my study population?

  • Class assignments, recordings or field notes of class discuss, tests, grades, and information about participation in specific classes are protected by FERPA and cannot be accessed, collected, or used without the documented permission of the student. The document used to obtain permission must list or describe the specific educational record or information that will be obtained and how it will be used for the research.
  • Unless the health record is being accessed or shared for the purpose of treating the student, student health records are protected by FERPA and signed and dated consent of the student is required to access, obtain/record, and use the information.