All research at the University of Queensland must be carried out in an ethical manner, following standard research practices such as:

  • accurate and fair quoting of sources
  • providing full references for quoted material and other sources which inform a research project;
  • developing research conclusions based on evidence which is clearly explained and argued, whether in an assignment for assessment or in a published article.

Students receive training in these standard research protocols in their undergraduate, fourth-year honours, and postgraduate courses. The expectation is that staff and students carrying out research will behave ethically at all times; and that they will inform themselves about ethical procedures and policies relevant to their research projects.

Staff and students whose research involves humans, that is, who interact with humans as part of their research (see definition below), are required to apply for and receive ethical clearance before they commence such interactions.

Staff and PhD/research masters students:

Undergraduate, fourth-year honours and coursework masters students:

Research involving humans, or interaction with humans as part of research.  

What this means is that, in order to carry out your research, you need to talk to people or interact with them in some way. You may wish to:

  • interview people, whether in person, on the telephone, or by email
  • conduct surveys, whether in person, on the telephone, by email, or on the web
  • require people to undertake certain actions, which you observe or record
  • request information from people on topics relevant to your research. 

In all these cases, you ask people to give up their time to you and to make information or opinions available to you for your research. In effect, you ask for their help so that you can carry out your research. It is important that the people with whom you interact as part of your research are treated with respect, and with awareness of their social and cultural circumstances and beliefs, including where these differ from yours. 

You should:

  • give information about your research project honestly to these people
  • inform them of the reasons you are carrying out your research
  • explain its value
  • behave responsibly in the way their contributions are treated in the research project and in any assessment or publications which result from it.

Students should discuss the ethical implications of their research projects with their supervisors, and should allow adequate time to obtain ethical clearance if this is required. Discuss the ethical implications of your project, including whether you need to obtain ethical clearance, with your supervisor as early as possible in your research.

Applying for Ethical Clearance

Discuss your research project with your supervisor, and ascertain whether ethical clearance is needed. If in doubt, ask the School Ethics Officer, Dr Lisa O'Connell,, tel 336 53323.

If your research project involves interaction with humans, your supervisor will help you design this in a manner that is suitable for the intellectual requirements of your project, and will advise you about the ethical implications. Fill in the School Application for Ethical Clearance form, in consultation with your supervisor, and email it to the School Ethics Officer. You will need to allow adequate time for your application to be approved (see below). The School Ethics Officer will respond to your application within two weeks (fourteen days) of receiving it, and will notify you of his or her decision. 

The School Ethics Officer may: 

  • recommend approval of your application
  • recommend conditional approval, subject to minor amendments
  • return your application to you with suggestions for amendments and extra information, and request that you resubmit it
  • advise that you need to apply to the Human Ethics Unit (or Medical Research Ethics Committee [MREC] Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee [BSSERC]). This may occur in cases including where your research involves ‘vulnerable groups’ (as defined in the Ethical Clearance guidelines); where it centrally involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; or where there are elements of harm or risk to your informants. If you are asked to apply to the Human Ethics Unit (or Medical Research Ethics Committee [MREC]Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee [BSSERC]), you will need to fill out a different form and there is a longer time frame, although expedited approval can be requested. Click here for more information.

Most research carried out by students in the School is of a kind which can be approved by the School Ethics Officer, and does not need to be considered by the Human Ethics Unit (or Medical Research Ethics Committee [MREC] Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee [BSSERC]).

Filling in the form: some explanatory points

  • Question 2: “Vulnerable groups” are as defined according to the University ethical research policies. The University wishes to be certain that members of these vulnerable groups are treated appropriately in research projects.
  • Questions 3: Explain how you intend to find your participants.
  • Question 4: Explain your whole research project, as well as the part which includes involvement with humans and for which you are seeking ethical clearance.
  • Question 5:  Give a summary of your whole research plan, including full details of the part which involves humans.
  • Question 6: Reflect on the ethical considerations which your particular research project raises.
  • Question 7: This may involve the provision of Information Sheets to participants, as well as signed Consent forms or other methods of obtaining informed consent. You may wish to ask for permission to quote participants’ words, especially if the material is likely to be controversial. You should ask permission to include participants’ names if this is necessary for your research topic.  Do you need to approach ‘gatekeepers’ for their permission to gain access to your informants? If so, you will need to provide Information and Consent forms to these people as well. An example of a ‘gatekeeper’: you wish to interview employees of a particular company, in which case you need to ask the director of the company for permission to contact their employees yourself, or to contact the employees on your behalf, such as in a workplace newsletter or email.  In this case, the director of the company is the gatekeeper.   A gatekeeper is the person to whom you must first speak, in order to make contact with your likely participants.
  • Question 9: Records of your research should be kept securely, such as in a locked filing cabinet or on a password-protected file on your computer. The more sensitive the material, the more secure the methods should be for storing it. You would normally keep your research records for five (5) years after the completion of your project. In some cases, you may wish to store the research material for others to work with in the future, such as by depositing it in a library or archive: your participants will need to consent to this.
  • Question 16: Participants are entitled to withdraw from the project at any time and without providing a reason. Can your research project continue if they do this?

Participant Information and Consent Sheets, and ‘Gatekeeper’ Information and Consent Sheets: These should include sufficient information about you, your project, and your proposed interaction with your participants, to enable these people to make an informed decision about whether they wish to take part, and to give their informed consent. Include the University Ethical Paragraph, provided on the School Ethical Clearance form. Information and Consent Sheets should be on letterhead, available from the School office in paper and electronic form. If communicating by email, use your University email address rather than a personal address. For further information, see the School Ethical Clearance form. 

  • Make sure you read the material listed under “Additional Information” on the School Ethical Clearance form.
  • And remember: the University Ethical Clearance guidelines and procedures are intended to protect your participants, and to protect you as a researcher.  The guidelines for ethical review of research involving humans in the University of Queensland—whether by staff or students—have been developed to ensure that all research is carried out in an informed and responsible manner. Ethical principles and conduct in relation to human experimentation and interaction are paramount. The University aims to ensure that those who volunteer to be participants in research have their rights and needs respected and protected. The University of Queensland Guidelines are based on the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans.

Further resources