Ethics Approval

Research conducted by staff and students in the University must abide by good ethical standards that respect the integrity and well-being of those involved in it.

In order to make sure that everyone in the College has the opportunity to reflect on those primary issues, and to consider the specific aspects of a chosen project, the College has a simple procedure to follow which is outlined in several steps below.

Those conducting research, funded or unfunded, with ethical implications may be staff of the University or postgraduate students, including those on taught MA/MRes degrees who are writing dissertations. (Undergraduate students writing dissertations should discuss any ethical implications of their work with their supervisors. If supervisors require guidance or advice they should contact their discipline Ethics Officer in the first instance. Formal review and approval should not normally be required.)

Projects requiring ethical review typically involve interviews, questionnaires or observation of people.

Step 1: Preliminary assessment

Once you have defined the project to a reasonable extent, look at it from an ethical standpoint and see if any of its activities, methods or processes has ethical implications. These will often occur if you are involving other living participants in your research, but may also — as archaeologists well know — involve those who are no longer with us! If you are in any doubt, or just wish to explore problems or possibilities, contact your discipline Director of Research, or your supervisor, or your module tutor. You may then also wish to talk with your discipline Ethics Officer (listed at the foot of this page).

Step 2: Proposal and consent form

If you think that your research does contain some significant ethical implications, outline the details of the research from the ethical perspective on the College Ethics proposal and consent form. The headings on the form have been kept to a limited number, but they do invite careful consideration of some important aspects of procedure, and in some respects also provide a guide to the conduct of this aspect of the research. The form should then be submitted to the College’s Ethics Committee, by email to humanities-ethics@exeter.ac.uk and your discipline Ethics Officer (please see list below). The Committee meets termly (September–June); as a minimum, aim to submit the form two months prior to beginning fieldwork to allow for review and revision as necessary.

MA/MRes students should take particular care to consult their tutors before submitting a form.

The form should contain everything that is required to understand the nature of the research in its ethical dimensions, if not in its overall scope. The form doubles as a proposal to the College (for approval) and as a consent form which must subsequently be read and signed by all relevant participants, who should also retain a copy themselves.

Step 3: Assessment and approval

The information on the form will then be considered by the College’s Ethics Committee, which may suggest changes. If necessary, there can be a further discussion with your discipline Director of Research or supervisor, to get the fine-tuning right. Once the content of the form has been agreed, the College Ethics Officer will then also issue you with a Certificate, which is formal confirmation of approval from the College and from the University.

Further considerations

The College’s Ethics Officer may seek advice in some cases from the Associate Dean of Research or the Secretary of the University’s Ethics Committee, and in exceptional circumstances may refer to that committee for a ruling on a particular problem.

Please remember that the principles of ethics in the conduct of research protect the researcher as well as the participants, and the University is very much aware of this dual responsibility in creating the procedures it has in place.

Ethics Committee members

Queries

For general queries about ethics procedures in the College, please email humanities-ethics@exeter.ac.uk.