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.

Scope

What needs ethical approval? See the UTREC pages 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).

University Regulations

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 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.

Approval Process

Ethics Committee Meetings

The School Ethics committee meets monthly on the Wednesday before the UTREC meeting. In order for your application to be reviewed at the monthly meeting it must be submitted the Monday ten days before the meeting. Failure to submit on time may result in your application being put back to the following month.

Cut-off date Meeting date
Mon 30 Oct 2017 Wed 8 Nov 2017
Mon 27 Nov 2017 Wed 6 Dec 2017
Mon 1 Jan 2018 Wed 10 Jan 2018
Mon 5 Feb 2018 Wed 14 Feb 2018
Mon 5 Mar 2018 Wed 14 Mar 2018
Mon 2 Apr 2018 Wed 11 Apr 2018
Mon 30 Apr 2018 Wed 9 May 2018
Mon 28 May 2018 Wed 6 Jun 2018

Undergraduate and Masters Students

Students complete one of three possible ethics forms for their projects. Which form is required is determined by following these instructions:

  1. Meet with your supervisor to discuss the potential ethical considerations of your project. It is crucial that your supervisor is engaged in the process, as they will have more knowledge than you of any considerations.

  2. Take a look at the preliminary self-assessment form. Follow the guidance on the form.
    If you answer ‘No’ to all the questions, print the form, tick the “There are NO ethical issues raised by this project” box on the front and sign it. Then discuss the project and form with your supervisor and ask them to sign it. You should then scan and upload the form to the Ethics column on MMS. The ethics process is now complete for your project. You should attach a copy of the front page of the pre-assessment form to your dissertation.

  3. If you have looked at the preliminary self-assessment form and answered No to all questions except the question on whether your research involves human subjects, then next look at the School software artifact ethical approval application. This has been designed to cover many common student projects that involve the creation of a software artifact and some limited testing. Read the rationale and ethical considerations on this form and see if your project is covered by these. Please note that projects that involve a questionnaire that is not discussing a software artifact (e.g. questionnaires collecting personal data from people) are not covered. Next go through all of the checkboxes on this form and see if the answers to these questions apply to your project. If all of this applies to your project, then you should complete the artifact evaluation form, print and sign it, discuss it with your supervisor and ask them to sign it, and then upload it to the Ethics column on MMS. The ethics process is now complete for your project. You should attach a copy of the artifact evaluation form to your dissertation.

  4. If neither of the above apply, then you must submit a full ethics form. There is no need to submit the pre-assessment form or the artifact evaluation form in this case. Complete the full ethics form with the help of your supervisor. Once the application is complete, sign it, have it signed by your supervisor, and email it and any supporting documents, to ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk. You should hear back from the ethics committee within two weeks of the final MMS deadline for ethics form submission. Approval may involve the ethics committee asking for rewrites but once approved you will receive an approval letter. You should then upload the approval letter to the Ethics column on MMS. The ethics process is now complete for your project. You should attach a copy of the approval letter to your dissertation.

FAQ:

  • “I’m too late to submit my application on MMS – MMS rejects my application – what do I do?”
    You cannot start your research until you obtain approval. It is therefore in your interest to submit your ethics form on time. Occasionally, it isn’t possible to do so. In this case you should discuss this with your supervisor, and inform the Project Co-ordinator for your module. If they agree to late submission, you should submit your form by mailing ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk.

  • “My project has changed – what do I do now?”
    Start the whole procedure form the beginning. See the previous section for guidance on how to decide which of the forms you would need to complete. This should be submitted to ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk if the MMS deadline has passed.
    If you have already submitted a full ethics application, and already obtained ethical approval through that process, you can ask for small changes to the application by submitting an ethical amendment form to ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk.

  • “I am doing a joint project with another School. Do I need to submit one application or two?”
    Only one application is submitted. This should go to the lead School (typically the one for which the module code is assigned, e.g. a CS4796 student would submit to the CS Ethics Committee). But the situation may differ depending on the particular circumstances of the project. You are advised to first contact the Ethics Convener at ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk.

  • “My project involves children. What should I do?”
    The project supervisor must first contact the UTREC child panel representative (Barbara Dritschel, bd9@st-andrews.ac.uk) for consultation and advice. Once this is done, the application can be submitted, including copies of any correspondence with the child panel representative, to the CS Ethics Committee for review. The application will then be forwarded to UTREC for final consideration and approval. Any projects involving children that have not been discussed with the child panel representative will be returned immediately.

Frequently encountered problems:

These are some common reasons for rejecting an application. Please try not to make these mistakes.

  • Not explaining the ethical considerations in the “ethical considerations” section. It is crucial that you clearly outline any ethical considerations in this section. Simply stating “there are no considerations” or “there are no ethical issues” is insufficient, as any project involving human subjects will have at the very least concerns about consent, secure storage and so forth. Please start this section with a description of these considerations, and then a brief description of how you mitigate them (more detail can be provided later).

  • Dates. We see various issues with the date fields in the form. It is free text, but please use an unambiguous format (e.g. ISO 8601 or writing out the date in words). We have seen some use of US dates which can be misinterpreted. Also the length of projects should not exceed the length of a module for student projects (e.g. don’t have two-year projects for an SH project).

  • Data. What kind of data are being collected for your project and how? Do the data contain anything identifiable or personal? Please be clear about what data are collected, how they are stored and where.

  • Consent. Please make sure that you use the correct consent form for your project. We see lots of applications saying that no identifiable data will be collected, but then using a consent form that discusses coded data.

  • Materials. If you are submitting a full ethics application, please make sure that you include all appropriate materials. This includes any questionnaires if you are using them.

Staff and PhD Students

Complete the full ethics form and submit it to: ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk

If you are a PhD student, both you and your supervisor must sign the form. Your supervisor should be engaged with the process from the outset.

If you have already submitted a full ethics application, and already obtained ethical approval through that process, you can ask for small changes to the application by submitting an ethical amendment form.

If you have external funding for the research from an unusual source, you may also have to complete a “Funding Approval Application Form”. UTREC maintains an extensive list of all pre-approved funders on their website. This includes all the major research councils.

Further Reading

Committee Members

  • Convener: Tristan Henderson
  • Member: David Harris-Birtill
  • Member: Uta Hinrichs
  • Member: Alan Miller
  • Member: Alice Toniolo
  • Member: Mike Weir (on research leave 2017/18 Semester 1)
  • Secretary: Annemarie Paton
  • e-mail: ethics-cs@st-andrews.ac.uk

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Last Published: 11 Jan 2018.