When Ethics become more than a paper pushing exercise….

After completing my panel in October I have been working through completing the ethics forms for my PhD study. Originally it was seen to have a low risk level. However, from my panel feedback and discussions with colleagues in the department it appears that from the wording on the ethics form my study is actually medium.The primary reason for this?

My participants may feel strong emotion whilst being a participant!

Yes, this is true of every participant. Yes, it is unavoidable. However, the potential for stronger emotions is definitely present within my study. From this stumbling block I could have become frustrated with this process due to terminology on a piece of paper. However, it has actually helped me thoroughly analyse and consider my participants view point. It has also enabled me to assess the analysis component of my study well before gaining the data.

In this way I would recommend spending substantial time considering, tweaking, and reflecting on ethical considerations. The use of a form and ticking boxes makes the process seem paper driven, but if you consider the context and implications for your participants the process of reflecting on their role becomes much easier to consider.

Ultimately I would argue that to tick boxes without ethical consideration or reflection to be a dangerous sport. It may be presented as a paper exercise but in practice it represents how you will deal with peoples future cognitive and emotional reasoning within your subject area.


  • Richard Fay

    Interesting, one of Paul’s minor corrections (from yesterday’s viva) is the addition of a clearer statement about his ethical processes, i.e. the examiners were not doubting his ethicality but want(ed) to see a clearer statement of his ethics in practice so to speak.

  • Magda Rostron

    Thanks for this insightful post, Miri. I wrote a comment on my own Panel experiences in Post-Panel Reflections in Examination (Viva/Panel) in the LTE blog. I agree that ethics is an absolutely essential element, in fact, the foundation, of the research process, determining its viability. I underestimated the significance of ethics awareness, or, rather the significance of ARTICULATING it and making it explicit in the proposal, down to every mundane detail. I took that awareness of ethical details for granted – a mistake not to be repeated! As a result of that oversight, I had to resubmit my proposal with the ethics side addressed in a much more specific and precise way.

    Now, as I proceed with my study and various research activities, I try to record relevant details concerning ethical (and other) issues in my researcher diary. Ultimately, not everything may be relevant, but to be on the safe side, I note down anything that might invite questions, trying to address them in advance.

    But it looks like the lesson for both of us is that nothing related to ethics should be underrated or omitted.

    Good luck with your work! 🙂