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Guidelines for student research

Guidelines from the HSSREC for student research involving human participants, their data or tissue in the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Arts, and the Department of Psychology


The HSSREC is responsible for overseeing processes and procedures within relevant Departments that ensure the ethical conduct and approval of research, by students, involving human participants, their data or tissue. A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate must also be obtained if you will come into contact with children or vulnerable adults. For further information please refer to the University's DBS Disclosure and Barring Service. It will be the responsibility of Heads of Departments to ensure that appropriate processes exist to monitor/assess and ethically approve all relevant student research and to promote the University of Warwick's Research Code of Conduct and any other relevant ethical guidelines. See also Research Governance and Ethics.

It is strongly recommended that all those involved in delivering, supervising, or supporting research at the University undertake the online training available, details can be found on the Research Integrity webpages.

Whilst it is not the intention that the HSSREC will review many student projects, should it be beneficial to the student or their department for a full committee review to take place, the student concerned should contact the HSSREC Secretary in the first instance. Such cases would include the following:

1. Where the funder of the student has insisted on a full ethical review and departmental review is not sufficient or;

2. Where the project is of sufficiently high risk to participants or the student or outside the scope of the normal ethical expertise existing within that department and/or the Head of Department believes it more appropriate to submit for full approval.

3. Where the research will be undertaken in any location which poses a high risk to the researcher (e.g. foreign countries with travel warnings in place)

4. Where the answer to any of the following questions is 'Yes', please escalate the application to HSSREC:

  • Is the research commissioned by the military?
  • Is the research commissioned under an EU security call?
  • Does the research involve the acquisition of security clearances?
  • Does the research concern terrorist or extreme groups?

These questions enable compliance with the University's Prevent Duty.

Whilst HSSREC does not propose to be prescriptive about individual departments’ mechanisms for ensuring that research is ethically reviewed the following guidance may help to identify the types of measures anticipated.

Postgraduate Research

It is expected that all Postgraduate Students whose research involves human participants, their data or tissue, will have their work ethically approved by a member of staff other than their direct supervisor to ensure an independent review. This person could be the Head of Department or a nominated ethical expert/advisor within the department.

It is vital that the ethical review must take place before any participant recruitment or fieldwork commences. Two useful points at which to assess ethical concerns and formally record ethical approval are suggested as follows:

  • At the point at which a student’s proposal is put forward for acceptance by the department.
  • During the upgrade process for PhD students

If the above points of review are not appropriate for specific projects/departments it is expected that alternative measures are chosen to ensure that ethical approval is obtained prior to participant recruitment/research on data commences.

Undergraduate Research 

It is expected that undergraduate courses that require students to undertake an element of fieldwork involving human participants will consider ethical implications at the point of obtaining approval for such courses.

In addition where undergraduate students are undertaking fieldwork projects including dissertations/large studies, it is expected that individual ethical review of such projects involving human participants, their data or tissue will be documented.

A log of departmental approvals granted to students must be kept and submitted to HSSREC upon request, normally three times per academic year. HSSREC will in addition require departments to submit their proposed processes to HSSREC for ratification.