Guidelines for Students and Staff undertaking Research Involving Human Participants
Any student or staff member who is considering undertaking research that involves collecting data from human participants must first get formal clearance for their project.
This guidance covers student dissertations, essays, portfolios and other assessed work, and staff and postdoctoral research.
- What type of research does this include?
- Why is ethical clearance necessary?
- How to Apply
- Application deadlines
Any research involving direct interaction with other people, or that uses data that have been collected from individuals, is considered ‘human participant research’. This might include:
- Questionnaires or surveys
- Focus groups
- Visitor survey data
- Personal records, including medical or biometric data
- Observations of people's behaviour
- Activities involving research subjects
Ethical approval is required whether you collect this data yourself, or are using secondary datasets collected by other researchers.
If you are uncertain about whether your research requires ethical approval, please contact the Chair of the Ethics Committee, currently Julia Shaw (IoA.firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss this further.
It is important to ensure the way you collect your data is ethically sound. All human participant research should be designed to minimise the risk of harm to those who take part in it, while being fully compliant with UK law.
By gaining proper ethical clearance you will have protection from the UCL legal team should any problems arise during the course of your work.
The process of gaining ethical approval will also help you develop a robust methodology and avoid some of the potential pitfalls of this type of research.
- Establish your topic, research aims and methods
- Complete the ethics checklist to determine which committee to apply to
- Submit a Risk Assessment
- Register with the UCL Data Protection Office (if collecting personal data)
- Complete and submit your Ethics Application (LREC or REC)
- Obtain confirmation of ethics approval
- Obtain external permissions and checks (if required)
- Renewal of ethics approval (for research lasting more than 12 months)
Students should first discuss their proposed research with their dissertation supervisor to develop a clear idea of their research aims and methods. You may wish to consult the ethics checklist below while working out your research strategy.
Once you have determined your course of action, you should begin the application process. This should be done as soon as you are ready; do not leave it till the last moment.
There are two routes to apply for ethical approval for your research at UCL, depending on the risks associated with your proposal. Use this 12-point checklist to find out which route is appropriate for your project.
If you identify your project as low risk, you should apply to your Local Research Ethics Committee (LREC) for review by the Institute of Archaeology Ethics Committee.
If you identify your project as high risk, you will need to apply to the Research Ethics Committee (REC). Before doing this, consult with your supervisor and Julia Shaw, Chair of the IoA Ethics Committee (email@example.com) to ensure your assessment is correct.
We recommend you consult this checklist as early as possible, so you are aware of the potential risks of your proposed research, and the amount of time needed to gain ethics approval.
This is required for all research, and must be completed before you can apply for ethics approval. Risk Assessment Applications usually take around 10 working days to process.
- Download a Fieldwork Risk Assessment form (Undergraduate and Masters students)
- Apply via RiskNet (PhD students and Staff)
Please send your forms to Sandra Bond, the Institute's Departmental Safety Officer.
If you collect any any personal data from your research subjects you must comply with UK Data Protection Regulations. These state that you should:
- Only collect the personal data needed for your research
- Keep this data secure at all times
- Delete the data when it is no longer required for the stated purpose
Personal data includes information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, images that allow the subject to be identified, audio or video recordings.
- Undergraduates must complete a UCL training course in Data Protection.
- Postgraduate researchers and staff must register their research with the UCL Data Protection Office.
Training or Registration must be completed before you can apply for ethics approval.
Data Protection Applications usually take around 10 working days to process.
If the Ethics Checklist shows that your application is considered low risk, you may apply to the Local Research Ethics Committee (LREC) for internal review by the Institute of Archaeology Ethics Committee.
If the checklist shows your application to be high risk, you should apply to the UCl Research Ethics Committee (REC).
Note that research involving NHS patients and carers must be approved by a national body; Please refer to the NHS Health Research Authority (HRA) checklist and the HRA's decision tool. We do not recommend this route for Undergraduate or Master student dissertations, because of the length of time required to get ethical approval in place.
For research involving live animals, you should apply to the Animal Welfare Ethics Review Board (AWERB).
Whatever route you take to gain ethics approval, you may need to attach supporting documents to your application, depending on the methods employed. These may include:
- Information Sheet
- Consent form
- Sample interview or survey questions
- Evidence that you have, or will be applying for, any external permissions needed to conduct your research
You will be informed of the outcome of your ethics application by letter or email. Once approval has been granted, you may proceed to advertise your project, recruit participants, and collect your data.
You may also need to gain the permission from other organisations in order to recruit research subjects or collect data from them.
For example, if you intend to observe visitors to a museum, you should formally request that museum's permission to do this. They may have their own requirements for how this research should be conducted.
Similarly, you should get permission from the owners of discussion groups on social media before posting recruitment adverts or links to online questionnaires.
DBS checks may also be required if your research would place you in close, regular contact with children or vulnerable adults. Click here for further guidance.
You will also be expected to follow accepted procedures for gaining informed consent from participants, and if conducting research abroad, make sure you have the appropriate visas and travel insurance in place.
Click here for more information on gaining informed consent.
Ethics approval is granted for up to one year at a time. If your research is continuing beyond this point, you must apply for an extension before your current approval expires. This is done using the same online application portal, selecting the ‘previously approved’ option in the form.
You should allow a minimum of 4-6 weeks for your ethics application to be processed.
The earlier you apply, the better. This is to ensure you have sufficient time for data collection, analysis and writing up - or for amending your research plans should your application be declined and/or require resubmission.
4.1. Applications for BA/BSc Dissertations
Second year undergraduates planning to collect data over the summer should:
- Complete Data Protection training and submit your ethics application by 26 June 2024 at the latest.
Third year undergraduates planning to collect data over the Christmas break should:
- Complete Data Protection training and submit your ethics application by 23 October 2024 at the latest. This is the last opportunity to submit an ethics application for dissertations due in May 2025.
4.2. Applications by MA/MSc students, PhD students, staff and postdoctoral researchers
4.2.1. Local Research Ethics Committee (LREC) Applications
Students can submit a LREC application for consideration at any time. You are advised to submit your application as soon as you are able to do so.
Please note that there is a cut-off point for LREC applications from students doing Undergraduate and Masters dissertations in the 2023-24 academic session, after which it will NOT be possible to apply.
- MA/MSc students should apply for Data Protection (if needed) by 24 May 2024 and submit their LREC application by 10 June 2024 at the latest.
- PhD, staff or postdoctoral ethics applications may be made at any time.
LREC Applications to the Institute of Archaeology Ethics Committee usually take up to 20 working days to process. This depends on you replying promptly to any queries we send you; incomplete or problematic applications may take longer.
4.2.2. UCL Research Ethics Committee (REC) Applications
REC applications can be made at any time. You are advised to submit your application as soon as you are able to do so.
Following the criteria in our 12-point ethics checklist above, all REC applications are automatically categorised as ‘High Risk’ and will require full committee review.
Deadlines and meeting dates for REC applications are listed below. The application process will take one month or more to complete.
|Data Protection registration deadline (if required)
|Ethics approval application deadline
|UCL REC Meeting date
|Wednesday 13 September 2023
|Wednesday 27 September 2023
|Monday 30 October 2023
|Wednesday 11 October 2023
|Wednesday 25 October 2023
|Monday 27 November 2023
|Wednesday 15 November 2023
|Wednesday 29 November 2023
|Monday 15 January 2024
|Wednesday 13 December 2023
|Wednesday 10 January 2024
|Monday 19 February 2024
|Wednesday 24 January 2024
|Wednesday 07 February 2024
|Monday 25 March 2024
|Wednesday 28 February 2024
|Wednesday 13 March 2024
|Monday 29 April 2024
|Wednesday 10 April 2024
|Wednesday 24 April 2024
|Monday 03 June 2024
|Wednesday 15 May 2024
|Wednesday 29 May 2024
|Monday 01 July 2024
|Wednesday 12 June 2024
|Wednesday 26 June 2024
|Monday 29 July 2024
Please note that there is a cut-off point for REC applications from students doing Undergraduate and Masters Dissertations in the 2023-24 academic session, after which it will NOT be possible to apply.
- MA/MSc students should apply for Data Protection (if needed) by 15 May 2024 and submit their REC application by 29 May 2024 at the latest.
- PhD students and staff may apply at any time. However note that the REC does not meet in August or September.
Applicants are usually notified of the Committee decision within 1–2 weeks after the scheduled REC meeting.
As with LREC approval, REC ethics approval will be granted for a period of up to one year. If your research continues past this point, you must apply to request an extension of your existing approval.
Similarly, if you change your research plans - which might include changing your target groups or research methods - you should apply for an amendment to your existing ethics approval.