Research ethics information
The main purpose of the Department's ethics review procedures is to facilitate the research undertaken by members of the Department in a way that protects both our research participants and ourselves.
Our aim is to accommodate all proposed research as far as is ethically possible. Our procedures and forms comply with the University of Sheffield ethics policy for research involving human participants, data and tissue.
The University of Sheffield's Research Ethics Policy applies to research involving human participants, personal data and human tissue as defined by Research Ethics Policy Note no. 1.
The Department has one set of procedures and forms for undergraduate and postgraduate-taught students and another for staff and postgraduate research students.
Department's Research Ethics Committee
The Department's Research Ethics Committee oversees the ethics procedures across all degree programmes and for staff. Key members include the department's Director of Research (Professor Sarah Neal) and Ethics Co-ordinator (Dr Tim Highfield). Both are available to offer advice to staff and students. All academic members of staff are designated ethics reviewers.
The University publishes guidance for ethics reviewers:
Training expectations for ethics reviewers
In June 2019, Senate approved a new policy put forward by the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC), which aims to set out clearer expectations for the training that staff should undertake in order to act as ethics reviewers for the University Ethics Review Procedure (including supervisors who review their own student’s ethics applications).
The new policy requires that all those who undertake ethical reviews have read the University’s Ethics Policy Governing Research Involving Human Participants, Personal Data and Human Tissue. In addition, they should undertake at least one, and ideally more, of the following:
- Attend one of the UREC’s regular workshops for ethics reviewers; OR a department-run equivalent;
- Read the key resources for ethics reviewers provided on the central ethics web pages;
- Read one or more of the training examples of ethics applications with reviewer comments available on the central ethics web pages;
- Shadow an experienced colleague whilst they ethically review one or more applications.
In addition, the Policy requires that Departments ensure that appropriate records of relevant training are maintained.
Please add your ethics training to the training log here: SCS Ethics Training Log
Full details of the new Policy including the approval procedure are available.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force across the EU, including the UK on 25 May 2018, and will replace the current UK Data Protection Act 1998.
The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) has updated the University's 'Ethics Policy Governing Research Involving Human Participants, Personal Data and Human Tissue' (now approved by Senate) and is developing associated guidance to assist researchers in ensuring that research involving personal data meets the new requirements. This includes additional information that you will need to provide to your participants if any personal data will be collected from them after the 25 May. Changes to the online Ethics Application Form will also be made in time for 25 May.
A new webpage has been developed to provide key details, including a 1-page summary of the changes and an audio recording of the UREC's information session held on 16 April. This page will be updated as more guidance becomes available.
For anyone undertaking NHS research, please note that additional information applies - please refer to the webpage above for details.
For supporting resources for research ethics and obtaining ethics approval (including Specialist Guidance, Research Ethics Policy Notes, Supporting Guidance on the University's Ethics Review Procedure, and Other Ethics Resources), please see here.
- Research ethics procedures for staff and postgraduate research students
Before beginning any research (funded or unfunded), you need to obtain ethics approval. When seeking funding, it is important to consult the guidelines of individual funding bodies as they differ according to whether ethics approval is required before submitting an application. You should also check which route to take for ethical approval, see here.
If the University Procedure is applicable, you should complete an ethics application via the University's Online ethics application system. Please refer to the relevant guidance on using the online ethics system.
The University's ethics web pages contain important guidance on research ethics for staff and postgraduate research students. It is useful to read this before completing your ethics application:
You must not begin any research until you have written confirmation from the Department that your application has been approved. A panel of at least three independent reviewers will be selected and will aim to complete an initial review within two weeks of receipt of the application. The timescale of subsequent reviews will depend on the complexity of any amendments required.
If you are unsure whether your proposed research requires a research ethics review, you should complete the ethics checklist. This should enable you to decide but if you are still unsure, you should consult the Department's Director of Research or Ethics Co-ordinator. If your proposed research does not require an ethics review, you must email your completed checklist and research proposal to the Department´s Ethics Co-ordinator. A member of the Department's Research Ethics Committee will assess your checklist and you will receive written confirmation that a review is not required.
- Research ethics procedures for postgraduate taught students
You should refer to your dissertation handbook / dissertation module requirements for guidance on the ethics submission process.
The University's ethics web pages contain important guidance on research ethics. It is useful to read this before completing your ethics application: University guidance
You must not begin any research until you have written confirmation from the Department.
If you are unsure whether your proposed research requires an ethics review, you must complete the ethics checklist. This should help you to decide in consultation with your supervisor.
If your supervisor agrees that your proposed research does not require an ethics review, you must complete, and both sign, the student declaration to this effect.
This declaration must be submitted with your research project or dissertation.
- Research ethics procedures for undergraduate students
You should refer to your Dissertation Handbook for guidance on the ethics submission process for your degree programme.
You must not begin any research until you have ethics approval from the Department.
The University's ethics web pages contain important information on research ethics procedures for undergraduate students. It is useful to read this before completing the Department's form: University guidance
If you are unsure whether your proposed research requires an ethics review, you must complete the ethics checklist. This should help you to decide in consultation with your supervisor or personal tutor.
If your personal tutor agrees that your proposed research does not require an ethics review, you must complete, and both sign, the student declaration to this effect.
This declaration must be submitted with your research project or dissertation.
The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) oversees the department's ethics review procedures. In very exceptional cases where agreement cannot be reached within the department, this committee can review applications. Members of the department wishing to appeal a decision of the Department´s Ethics Review Committee should inform Richard Hudson (Research & Innovation Services) via Tim Highfield, the Department's Ethics Co-ordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amendments to the original research design are common in any research project. In this situation, you must consider whether the proposed amendment constitutes a significant change that could have a potential impact on the dignity, rights, safety and well-being of the participants.
Undergraduates and postgraduate taught students should consult with their supervisor or personal tutor to decide if a new ethics application is necessary. If your supervisor or personal tutor is unsure if your proposed amendments warrant a new ethics application, you should submit a 1-2 page A4 summary of the proposed amendments and a copy of the original application to the appropriate Programmes Officer:
Ruth Sullivan (email@example.com) (UG and PGT)
Your summary should refer directly to the original application in order to explain why your proposed amendments raise new ethical issues.
Postgraduate research students and STAFF
PGR students and Staff should send
- the original ethics application's reference number from the online system;
- a document with full details of the proposed amendment(s);
- any revised or new documentation (e.g. information sheet / consent form)
to the following:
The lead ethics reviewer of the original application will review these documents and decide whether a new application is necessary or whether they are able to approve the changes as minor amendments. (If the lead reviewer is unavailable the Department's Ethics Co-ordinator will make the decision.) You will be informed of the outcome by email.
(For further guidance see: Section 3.8.1 University Ethics Guidance "Changes after ethical approval".)
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