Computer Science @ University of St Andrews

University of St Andrews crest

Ethics

This page outlines the School's Ethics approval process for research and student projects. This is a work in progress, and readers are advised to also consult the University Teaching and Research Ethics Committee (UTREC) web pages for further information.

What needs ethical approval?

See the UTREC Remit for the long answer. But the short answer is Principle 1 of the remit: "All research and teaching activities of all staff and students in all Schools of the University that involve data collection from, interviews of, interactive investigation of, experimentation upon or demonstrations involving living human subjects, tissues and/or other samples". In Computer Science, that might include projects involving:

  • network monitoring
  • user studies
  • questionnaires
  • the use of sensitive (e.g., medical) data
  • working with children

If in doubt, please ask. If you are working with animals, then there is a separate committee called AWEC (Animal Welfare Ethics Committee.

Why should I care?

Here is some bad press from some research projects that have not followed ethical procedures:

University regulations

Ethics (UTREC)

All research in all Schools of the University that involves data collection from (questionnaires etc…), interviews of, interactive investigation of, experimentation upon or demonstrations involving living human subjects, tissues and / or other samples requires formal approval from the University Teaching and Research Ethics Committee (UTREC).

It is University policy that any research involving children under 18 should be reviewed by the UTREC Child Panel and that the researcher should hold an ‘Enhanced Disclosure Scotland’ (EDS) certificate. The principal supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the student has received the appropriate ethical clearance from UTREC and the Child Panel prior to research commencing.

It is a requirement that any undergraduate honours or Masters dissertation or PhD thesis that requires ethical approval from UTREC has the letter or email of ethical approval bound into the appendix before submission.

Funders & Ethics (UTREC)

All researchers receiving funding from an external organisation must complete a Funding Approval Application Form (in addition to an Ethical Application Form), unless the intended funder appears on the Automatically Approved Funders List published on the UTREC website.

Researchers should also be aware that some bodies providing funding for projects may stipulate their own Ethical and Legal considerations. The researcher should be fully aware of any obligations specified by the body providing funding and the implications this may or may not have for their research including methods of research, confidentiality and retention.

Approval process

  1. Complete the Pre-Assessment Form. This is a checklist which is designed to help you determine whether your project needs a full ethics application. If it does not, then simply sign this form (and, where appropriate, ask your supervisor to read and sign the form and to fill in their own Supervisor Form) and return the completed form(s) to the Ethics Committee Secretary.
  2. If you need to complete a full Ethical Application Form, this can be found on the UTREC website. Please ensure that you are using the most up-to-date version of the EAF from the UTREC website, as the form does change from time to time. Note that the form is a Word document and doesn't seem to work very well in OpenOffice or the MacOS version of Microsoft Office, so you will need to find a Windows machine with MS Office.
  3. Submit a printed and signed copy of the EAF and any supplemental documentation to the Ethics Committee Secretary.
  4. Submit an electronic copy of the EAF via e-mail to the Ethics Commitee Secretary at ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk.
  5. Wait for the Committee to consider your EAF at its next meeting. The project will either be approved and submitted to the UTREC database, or returned for further clarification and changes.

Student projects

SH and MSc students whose projects require ethics approval should submit a list of ethical considerations and rationale as part of their first deliverable. A full EAF should be submitted and approval obtained before any data collection or experiments take place. There will be an ethics briefing in Week 1 of Semester 1 to explain the procedure.

JH students do not need to submit an EAF - if needed, the JH project coordinator submits an EAF for the entire module.

Tips

Some common problems in filling out the EAF that might delay the process:

  • This might seem rather obvious, but you must fill out all the relevant bits of the form. In particular people seem to be missing out the "Supervisor" section on the first page.
  • A printed and fully signed copy of the form(s) must be provided, in addition to the electronic copy.
  • Perhaps the most important sections of the form are the "Rationale" and "Ethical Considerations" on page 1, as this text serves to explain the project to the Committee and will be recorded into the UTREC database. These sections must make sense to someone who has no prior knowledge of your project.
  • If your project involves working with children, then you should speak to the School Ethics Convenor and the UTREC Child Panel Representative as soon as possible. You will probably need to obtain Enhanced Disclosure so factor the time and cost of this into your project. Even if you already have Enhanced Disclosure, you may need to reapply to obtain Enhanced Disclosure with the University listed as your employer. Your EAF will also be referred to UTREC so there may be some further delay in approving the project.
  • If your project involves collecting data, participants must be informed how long these data will be kept for.
  • Any projects involving medical data or research should obtain NHS REC approval (or the equivalent) before being submitted to the School committee.
  • Also see the UTREC's Helpful Hints document.

Example forms

  • Example forms and participant information sheets can be found on the UTREC web pages.

Further reading

Committee members