Guidance for Student Research and Class Projects

MIT students and staff conduct a large variety of activities both within and outside of the classroom. Class projects are often only conducted for pedagogical purposes and are not subject to COUHES oversight. However, in cases where class projects involve human subjects and meet the the federal definition of research, COUHES review and approval is required.  

The aim of this guidance is to enable students or instructors to determine whether their class projects meet the definition of human subject research and whether COUHES approval is required prior to conducting the class activities.  

Quick Guide: Review Part A-C When Making a Determination

Part A

  1. Does the project involve human subjects?

If the answer to Part A is “No,” STOP. This study is not human subject research. COUHES review is not required.

If the answer to Part A is “Yes,” proceed to Part B.

Part B

  1. Is the project a course requirement, conducted for course credit or part of the course syllabus?
  2. Will the project be performed by students enrolled in the course?
  3. Is the project designed for pedagogical purposes ONLY? For example, instructing students on research methodology or execution?
  4. Is the target audience for the project the other students and the instructor of the course?

If some or all of the answers to Part B are “No,” STOP. This study may not be a class project. Refer to the COUHES 101 page for COUHES submission requirements and additional guidance.

If all the answers to Part B are “Yes,” proceed to Part C.

Part C

  1. Is this project systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge?1
  2. Will the data collected in this project be used outside of the class as part of the student or the instructor's own research?2 

If all the responses to Part C are “No,” the study is a class project but not human subject research. COUHES review is not required

If any of the answers to Part C are “Yes,” this study is a class project and also human subject research. COUHES review is required.


  1. If data or the results of this project will be presented in student (undergraduate or graduate level) theses, COUHES recommends the submission of an application. 
  2. If the data collected as part of this project may, at any point in the future, be utilized for research beyond the scope of the class, COUHES recommends the submission of an application as COUHES will not approve classroom research retroactively.