Ethics: A Guide for Doctoral Students
This Guide highlights the University's policy and processes on ethics for doctoral researchers.
As a doctoral researcher at the University, you must ensure that your research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards.
The University sets out its own principles and standards in a Code of Good Practice in Research Integrity.
As well as considering the ethical implications of your research on others, it is also important to reflect on how the nature of your research may adversely affect you – see the Vicarious Trauma section below.
It is your, and your supervisor’s, responsibility to ensure that all paperwork, and any subsequent applications requiring full ethical approval, are completed and submitted in good time. Your supervisor must advise on, and sign-off, all your paperwork. This includes the EIRA1 form, which all students must complete except for Psychology students; Psychology students must instead obtain PREC ethical approval (see 'Ethics consideration during your studies' below).
For Candidature you are required to provide evidence of how you have commenced considering ethics and of any appropriate actions that have been identified.
For Confirmation (or alternate point for Professional Doctorates), you must provide evidence of having fully considered ethics and, if necessary, obtained formal ethics committee approval for the project.
Failure to complete either of the above may result in delays to approving Candidature, and potential failure at Confirmation / delays in the commencement of your data collection/research activities. It is also your responsibility to re-evaluate ethical issues should the nature of your research change during the course of your doctorate and, if necessary, (re)apply for the relevant formal ethics committee approval.
Ethics consideration at the start of your studies
During the Candidature stage there may be insufficient information about your future studies to allow completion of the necessary university paperwork/processes at this stage. However, consulting the following will provide an early indicator as to possible ethical issues and whether full ethical committee approval might need to be sought:
Research integrity and ethical considerations in The University of Bath’s own Code of Good Practice in Research Integrity and, where applicable, your own department’s ethical guidance.
Ethical requirements from the relevant external public, professional, or funding bodies' websites. Your supervisor will be able to advise you as to the most appropriate external body to consult.
You must cite on your Candidature form which websites you have consulted and whether you and your supervisor think that full ethical approval may be required.
Ethics consideration during your studies
The Ethical Implications of Research Activity 1 (EIRA1) form is the University’s method of assessing whether your research raises any specific ethical issues, and therefore whether or not full Ethics Committee approval is required.
All students, except those in the Department of Psychology (PhD and DClinPsy), must complete their EIRA1 form and, if required, obtain formal ethics committee approval. Doctoral students in the Department of Psychology (PhD and DClinPsy) must submit their research to the Psychology Research Ethics Committee (PREC) for full approval, and so completion of the EIRA1 form is not required.
There are three stages to the EIRA form, with clear responsibilities for each section as follows:
- The Lead Supervisor has to sign-off the first stage, although the student can fill in the form
- The second reader is identified by the Lead Supervisor and student – some programmes might decide to always use the second supervisor
- The final sign off comes from the lead supervisor's Head of Department/Division (HoD) – the HoD has ultimate responsibility for ethics in their department/School
NB although the Departmental Research Ethics Officer doesn’t formally sign-off applications, as part of the process they are notified of any EIRA1 applications in their departments, and they may send comments to the HoD.
Completion of the EIRA1 and, where necessary, obtaining subsequent formal ethical committee approval/obtaining University Sponsorship (as required, but including all Psychology students), must all be completed, and evidence provided, by either of the following deadlines (whichever is soonest):
- The start of your design or empirical work.
Confirmation, for PhD students.
Candidature, for the DBA in Higher Education Management.
The end of the first year of your research stage for the Doctorate in Health (DHealth), Doctorate in Policy Research & Practice (DPRP) and and the Doctorate in Education (EdD).
For the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy) see your Programme Handbook on Moodle.
If your research involves NHS patients, their tissue or information, staff, equipment or other resources, you may also have to seek University Sponsorship.
If you need to seek full ethical approval
If, on completion of your EIRA1 form, it indicates that full ethical committee approval is required, you must follow the instructions for the relevant committee. You can find details of these, including the dates they sit, by following the links below:
Animal Welfare & Ethical Review Body (AWERB) – see Animal Research or other departmental-specific ethics processes/committees
If you need to seek University sponsorship to work in the NHS, you will need to follow the instructions on applying for sponsorship.
Once you have consulted the relevant committee processes, you should:
Submit your applications in good time – as you might not get full approval on first submission, the process can take more than a month.
Ensure that your application is complete, including all the necessary, and correct, signatures and all necessary documents, to avoid rejection of your application.
Wait to receive confirmation that full approval has been granted - not just that the paperwork has been received (NB data collection must not start until you have full approval).
- Certain funders, such as Research Councils, may have additional expectations regarding ethical approval and so it is essential that you check with them or with your relevant University contacts.
Further information and training
Concordat to Support Research Integrity (mandatory for research students)
Research ethics and governance (e-learning module – managed by DoctoralSkills)
Research integrity and ethics (University web pages – linked from the Doctoral Skills Programme)
Working with Sensitive Data Guidance (Library web page)
The Importance of Research Integrity and Research Ethics by Professor Jonathan Knight
Vicarious Trauma (VT) (and associated conditions) occurs when individuals are adversely affected when exposed indirectly to the trauma experienced by others.
Indirect exposure to this trauma can produce a wide variety of symptoms of distress, of a serious nature. Read more about Vicarious Trauma and how to prepare for and mitigate the risk.