I feel for my students now

Today was the day I set for myself to complete all the online coursework required to qualify for IRB certification, since I’m concerned that some of my proposed spider research might require approval. The fact that the work is on spiders isn’t a problem (it was weird discovering that invertebrates don’t seem to count as “animals”), but that I’m planning to survey people’s — you know, human beings’ — homes might be of some concern. I’m dotting those i’s and crossing those t’s to make sure.

Anyway, I hadn’t realized what a painful slog it was going to be. Lots of the modules have these little staged videos illustrating cases of problematic behavior. I’ve already decided that I hate Smarmy Grad Student and Smug PI so much. I have to take a little quiz after each module, too, which are usually easy, but the ones on financial reporting put me to sleep, and jeez, I had to take an online cours in Export Controls and Economic Sanctions which was 90% acronyms, I think. For instance, my work has to comply with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which is going to put a real crimp into my nefarious plans for spiders.

Now it’s done, at least, and my brain is only bleeding a little bit.


  1. Ed Seedhouse says

    I await calmly the inevitable arrival of your army of eight legged un-animals. PZ for Tyrant!

  2. nomdeplume says

    “weird discovering that invertebrates don’t seem to count as “animals”” One of my pet hates, as in “animals and birds”. “Animals” has come to be a synonym of mammals, perhaps because we are mammals, and recognise kinship? But that doesn’t fit with creationism of course. Anothe media terminology that contributes to this is referring to all invertebrates as “creepy-crawlies”. Not only does this sort of nonsense prevent human recognition of common origins, but it prevents any recognition of the importance of other species in ecosystems.

  3. says

    I don’t have enough experience to know whether it’s a fluke or not, but all human-subjects research approval at UC Davis was managed through the affiliated UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, which required researchers to answer dozens of unrelated medical questions. For example, I was going to interview math students about errors they made on quizzes and exams, so I had to affirm that I was not going to take blood, cell, or fluid samples — or otherwise stick needles into them. (I wonder: Would the threat of sticking needles in them improve algebra student performance?) It seemed odd that all research was treated as if it were medical research. But that’s more than a dozen years in my past and no longer a concern.

  4. says

    You should have said you were going to take blood samples from all of your students. You would have had to jump through so many more hoops.

  5. chrislawson says

    Ha! I knew you’d see the dark side of IRBs once you had to make submissions to them!

    (Clarification: the problem with IRBs is their tendency to wastefulness and confusing forms and a lack of standardisation between institutions. Those pinkerites who want to abolish IRBs altogether are scary people.)

  6. says

    The other horrible part of the experience is that I’m 61 (almost 62) and I’ve been in this business for decades, so I’m going through this program and almost all of it is obvious — I could take the little quizzes at the end and ace them without doing any of the reading. Except. Some of the questions are trivial minutiae about oh, the title of the some level of the university hierarchy, or the meaning of an obscure acronym. That means I have to read very closely and master tiny details that are irrelevant to the overall concept, which I will then forget overnight.

    Also, though, they have these little video case studies, with actors playing the role of PIs and students and post-docs engaged in questionable behavior and I’m simultaneously torn by the fact that a) these are all obvious principles, and I want to yell at the actors that no, you cannot do that, and b) I’ve known too many people who have committed the sins they are portraying, so why didn’t those people find it obvious?

  7. lochaber says

    My last job involved taking remnant samples and running them through a mass spec. I had to take all kinds of IRB, patient care, HIPPA, and assorted other tests and courses. Most of them were not even remotely relevant to what I was doing. Also, I rarely read the material or watched the video. Usually we could take a pretest, and if we scored perfectly, we could skip the course. If we didn’t score perfectly, then we could take the course/watch the vid, and take a test that was usually identical to the pretest. If we scored less then 80%(I think?), then we could retake it. I think they sometimes changed the order of the multiple-choice answers, but I don’t think they ever changed up the questions.

    I think I understand why they do it in the way that they do, as from a large institution’s standpoint, they basically want to primarily CYA (CTA?-cover your/their ass…), and it would be a tremendous amount of work to handcraft and detail for ever department and researcher, and would likely leave the overall institution liable and what not….

    But then you end up with people like me, who think this stuff is important, but more or less blow off the majority of it, because it just isn’t relevant, and is asking me to learn very specific bureaucratic details that will likely never relate to what I’m doing. On top of that, I do think there were some questionable activities going on, but it was always done with plausible deniability, and, well… that’s just how things work, I guess?

  8. Crudely Wrott says

    Welcome to the bureaucracsphere where every detail must be scrutinized and every scrutiny must be detailed. Now I think I know what drove Frank Zappa. Not to mention Firesign Theatre. It was inscrutable detail demands that gave us Monty Python. And, hey! Imagine being inside the brains of Lenny Bruce or George Carlin!
    I admire PZ’s laid back approach, though I imagine there are times when his sleep does not come easily. He is to be complemented.
    Here, PZ, have a complement. You’ve earned it.

  9. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Here, PZ, have a complement. You’ve earned it.

    Working that angle, huh?