UCL Research Ethics


Become an ethics committee member

The UCL Research Ethics Committees play a key role in facilitating ethical research. Find out more about the ethics review and how you can become a UCL REC committee member.

Research ethics is fundamental to UCL's mission as a world-class institution dedicated to the continued pursuit of original knowledge and scientific advancement to benefit humanity and the world of the future. Research ethics committees play a central role in ensuring that research meets the highest standards of academic rigour, transparency, accountability and ethics, to safeguard and empower participants

These high standards are essential for ensuring the highest quality research and maintaining the continued trust and confidence of the wider research community and the public.

All UCL ethics committees work closely with students and researchers.

What does an ethics committee do?

At UCL we have Local Research Ethics Committees in some departments and faculties reviewing low risk research ethics. All other low-risk research and all high-risk research is considered by a central research ethics committee. 

During 2024 we are implementing a new governance structure: 

Our two reviewing central committees will be multi-disciplinary committees with cross-UCL faculty representatives working in different fields and disciplines. 

Our UCL REC and reviewing committees also include lay members who bring a wide range of skills and experience ensure that the participants’ perspective in any project is considered in detail.

Our research ethics committees operate within the ethical principles of beneficence, non-malfeasance, voluntary participation, informed consent, confidentiality, and anonymity.

The process of ethics review

The key duty of a research ethics committee is to protect the interests of the research participants whilst at the same time facilitating ethical research.

Research Ethics Committees review research ethics applications and give an opinion on whether the research is ethical and fair. This process involves ensuring that any research project should fairly balance the likely benefits to the participant, or society at large, against the burdens involved and any risk of harm or actual harm to those taking part.

It also means ensuring that the research proposal itself is necessary, properly designed (to ensure that risks to those involved in the research are minimised), supervised and conducted and that the outcome will answer the research question thereby not wasting research participant time.

An important part of this is ensuring that participants are not unfairly pressured into taking part and that they are fully informed about the project and what it will mean for them. Central to this is ensuring participants have appropriate information before they agree to take part in the study (i.e., informed consent).

Committee members review low-risk applications by email and discuss high-risk applications at monthly meetings. 

Join our Research Ethics Committees: Shape the Future of Research!

Are you passionate about promoting ethical research practices and contributing to the advancement of knowledge?  

Academic members: We would like to hear from UCL staff, including early career researchers, who are interested in becoming volunteer academic ethics reviewers. Research ethics committee work is now recognised in UCL’s HR Academic Career Framework within working grade indicators of impact towards building a case for academic promotion.

Lay members: Interested volunteers, especially those who are suitably qualified with experience from an educational, legal, medical, scientific, mental health, social work, counselling, or audit/risk management background and including UCL Professional Services colleagues, are encouraged to apply. 

How to apply

If you would like the opportunity to play an important part in the development of the university’s ethical review process, and to join one of the great centres of research, knowledge, and innovation then please complete this Qualtrics form. On the form you will be asked to provide: 

  • Expression of interest: A short outline of your reason for applying, describing the relevant skills and experience you would bring to the role. Previous experience on ethics committees and undertaking research ethics-related work would be an advantage.  
  • Internal UCL applicants: You will be asked to confirm your line manager support for your application. 
  • External applicants: You will be asked to provide your CV and one reference.

We encourage applications from our diverse global UCL community and particularly from groups that tend to be under-represented.  Diverse committee membership is essential for the consideration of ethical issues.  Members bring diverse expertise, perspectives and experiences to contribute to discussions on complex and challenging research ethics applications.

Positions are voluntary.

Lay members are, reimbursed reasonable expenses (e.g. travel, childcare).  We are in the process of introducing an honorarium of £25 per meeting.

We also provide regular training and development opportunities. 

If the level of interest exceeds the number of vacancies available, informal meetings will be held with shortlisted applicants and successful candidates will be offered lay member posts.

Hear from ethics committee members

An academic member
The rare opportunity to be part of an important cross-faculty committee has broadened my outlook and deepened my understanding of research ethics and high-impact research activity across all subject areas at UCL. I have also benefitted from working in an engaging team of motivated and supportive academic and administrative staff to ensure world-leading research ethics for our staff, students and research participants.”
A lay member
I joined the UCL REC as a lay member soon after retirement from a career in medicine / medical research.  I find the work intellectually stimulating and enjoy the breadth of research projects from the many and various UCL institutes, ranging from master student studies to large clinical trials, with studies taking place all around the world. Some studies have posed difficult ethical challenges that are discussed at REC meetings which I find very interesting and rewarding. I appreciate the fact that the members of the REC are supportive of each other and work well together as a team."
I became a lay member of the REC following retirement from a long career in the applied human sciences, working in government organisations and industry. I have found it fulfilling to assist in the research efforts of one of the world’s leading research institutions by helping to ensure the research ethics requirements are appropriately met. Each month, it has been fascinating to read applications for ethics approval from across a very broad range of topic areas which usually demonstrate a very good level of thought around research ethics issues."
Committee Chairs
It is a privilege to serve as Chair of UCL Research Ethics Committee since 2015. My role as Chair is to lead the Ethics Committee in setting the standards of Ethics for all UCL research activities, assessing complex ethics applications and adjudicating where necessary. One of the most rewarding parts of the role is working with an exceptional group of academics and professional services colleagues who are fully committed to Research Ethics. We manage a high volume of ethics applications daily, in addition to the monthly committee meetings, but despite the intensity of our work, we always place integrity at the heart of everything we do. The dedication of colleagues on the UCL Research Ethics Committee, and UCL Integrity and Ethics Team is simply inspirational."  
Professor Lynn Ang
Raising the profile of ethics at UCL and facilitating research has been a keen driver for my engagement together with Lynn Ang. Research questions are complex and it is our task as researchers to see the perspective of those we work with as participants. Hopefully we all see research ethics not only as a way of empowering participants and to give them a free choice, but also as a way to ascertain that we as researchers contribute ‘to excellence, innovation and the promotion of global understanding in all our activities: research, teaching, learning, enterprise and community engagement.’" (UCL 2034
Professor Michael Heinrich

Some questions you may have about being a member of an ethics committee

What kind of person would make a good REC member?

REC members have a very real interest in research and protecting participants interests. They take a balanced view of the likely harms and benefits of a research project and are confident about expressing and supporting their own opinions, whilst also taking into consideration the opinions of colleagues on the committee.

Members have the ability to understand the complex issues involved in reaching ethical decisions. They are collegial, open to different viewpoints that might be contrary to their own, have excellent communication skills and possess a desire to make a difference. They should also understand the requirement for confidentiality when reviewing ethics applications, be IT literate and comfortable reviewing documents electronically. Access to a computer or tablet is desirable.

Lay members play an important role on the REC alongside our expert academic members. They can, at their best, be prophetic and give voice to things that others on the committee, by virtue of their academic role at UCL, cannot so easily say. If they are non-specialists, lay members may see certain parts of research applications in ways different from other committee members.

What would I be expected to do and how much time is involved?

Meeting review work
REC members work as part of a committee, central committees meet 10 times a year and are hybrid so members can join in person on campus or virtually via Teams and members are asked to commit to attending at least 6 of the meetings.

REC members are not required to review all the applications although their expert input into the discussions of complex applications is required.  All applications are assigned for paired review.

Each application under review is pre-screened by the Research Ethics Service. When applications are despatched to REC members – generally a week before each committee meeting – they are accompanied by this detailed application pre-screen.  Reviewers then address any questions, agree or disagree with with the comments and and add their own comments.

We ask our members to commit to 2 hours per month for each meeting.  Review/preparatory and follow up work for each meeting takes around 5.3 hours, totalling up to 7.3 hours a month.

Ad Hoc post-application approval review work
When applications are ethically approved, a condition of approval is that the researcher has to follow post-approval responsibilities. This can include reporting to the REC on an annual basis (if required – this is often the case for longitudinal studies) the progress of their work, and informing the REC of any proposed amendments to their research project through submission of an amendment request or annual continuing review approval form.  

Minor amendments and requests to extend ethics approval are generally approved in-house by the Research Ethics Service but more substantive amendments i.e. changes to the research methodology and participant group are scrutinised outside of REC meetings on an ad hoc basis by the principal reviewers of the original ethics application and by one of the REC Chairs.

Will I be able to carry out the role of a REC member alongside my current job?

This will clearly depend on your current employer’s policy regarding voluntary appointments. Some employers may allow you time to attend the REC meetings, recognising the activity as professional development or via a corporate social responsibility policy.

However, you will need to check this with your line manager or HR department. Most organisations appreciate the valuable work of ethics committees, without which, research academic could not be carried out. You will need to bear in mind that REC meetings are held during the day.

What is the legal position of a REC member?

UCL will maintain appropriate insurance cover and will indemnify all members of the REC against any claims made against them which arise in respect of their membership of the REC, provided that they have acted in good faith in reaching the decisions made.

How long would I serve?

Terms of office are three years with the option of renewal for further three year term.