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Guidance for Research Degree Students and Supervisors

A supervisor with student

Any research project involving the collection of data or biological samples from human participants, requires ethics review by the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). However, this is only one team to whom you may need to apply to meet the requirements of the University, your funders (if relevant) or research setting gatekeepers (for example, in the case of research in the NHS, or in other international contexts.

Research degree students should consult with their supervisor and consider any ethics implications associated with their research at an early stage, to ensure they apply to the relevant teams and HREC in good time. It is essential that all Professional Doctorate students apply to HREC.

It is strongly advised that researchers check HREC guidelines and think about the relevance to their own work at the very start of their research. Applying to HREC is not a complex process but does involve careful consideration well in advance of starting to collect data.

Dr Katelin Teller
HREC student representative

Points to note

  1. It is essential that you do not advertise for, or attempt to recruit, potential participants until you have received a favourable opinion from HREC. Advice about recruitment should be sought as part of your research design from your supervisory team and the teams below, as relevant to your study.
  2. If this involves planning to approach over 30 OU staff, you should gain approval for your plans from the Staff Survey Project Panel, and/or if you plan to approach OU students to investigate their OU learning experience, you should gain approval from the Student Research Project Panel.
  3. If you are planning to gather personal or sensitive data (please see the What needs HREC review? page for further information), you should gain Data Protection Team approval for your information asset register entry.
  4. If you are planning research which takes place in the NHS research context, please refer to the ‘Health and Social Care research’ HREC webpage as you will need to check your insurance status and whether you also need to apply to the Health Research Authority (HRA) through their Integrated Research Assessment System (IRAS). Previous doctoral researchers have recommended that, if this is likely to be relevant to your research, you should consult the HRA Research Protocol Template to start to think about how to structure your protocols and how this fits with the process of applying through both IRAS and the Open University HREC system.
  5. If you are conducting research which requires gatekeeper permission to access a setting, you should explore what they need to know to offer you this permission. It is usual to gain this in advance of making an application to HREC unless, in some circumstances, the gatekeeper wants to know you have your University’s favourable opinion already in place. 
  6. The above approvals should all be in place before data collection commences. A HREC favourable opinion will be contingent on the relevant team(s)’ approvals being confirmed.
  7. Please attach all research-related materials (e.g. recruitment communications, gatekeeper permissions, participant information and consent forms, research instruments including any verbal protocols).
  8. Gatekeeper and participant-facing documentation should contain your OU email address. Personal email addresses should NOT be used. Personal telephone numbers should also not be used in communication with participants, if at all possible, or a case made as to why this needs to be the case, and how you will protect yourself from possible loss of your privacy and/or safety.
  9. The ethics project application will need to be completed in the Research Ethics Application System. Please note the ethics project application must include your supervisor’s electronic signature and supporting comments. Applications cannot be submitted without this.

Professional Doctorate students

It is essential that all Professional Doctorate students apply to HREC.

The ethics project application will need to be completed in the Research Ethics Application System.

Please note the ethics project application must include your supervisor’s electronic signature and supporting comments. Applications cannot be submitted without this.