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Background to Research Ethics

For undergraduates new to research ethics there are several online tutorials to recommend. The McMaster Research Ethics Tutorial will put the national research ethics policy (The Tri-Council Policy Statement) into perspective. It will also outline the overall research ethics process and has some good case studies.

A more challenging online tutorial is the one developed by the government organization that oversees the development of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. This tutorial is called the TCPS2: CORE Tutorial.

Sample Materials

It is highly recommended that you consult and use the sample materials and templates on the McMaster Research Ethics Board website, found on the Forms and Templates page.  You can download a blank sample of the Psychology Department Letterhead.

Application Tips

The application must describe your research protocol from the perspective of the research participant. In order to treat the volunteer with consideration and dignity you must comply with the following aspects of the research participant’s experience:

  • The research entails minimal risk of any physical, psychological or social harms.
  • The person is informed, is not implicitly or explicitly coerced, and is competent to freely give their consent to participate.
  • The information you have acquired is anonymous and if not anonymous the data are collected and stored with strict privacy and confidentiality.
  • They may terminate their participation at any time without consequence. They have the option of not answering questions.
  • They are debriefed afterwards about the research questions and rationale.
  • They are offered summary findings of the results or offered other educational benefits for participating.

The application form will ask you to complete carefully the following sections:

  1. Purpose of the research.
  2. Recruitment of research volunteers. Append Recruitment Request
  3. Obtaining volunteer’s consent to participate. Append the Consent form
  4. Research tools & procedures as the volunteer will experience them
  5. Debriefing. Append the Debriefing Statement
  6. Description of risks to the volunteer & how such risks are minimized.
  7. Guarantees for privacy & data confidentiality.
  8. Guarantees of researcher’s compliance to standards of Ethical Guidelines.
  9. If relevant, approval of agencies other than McMaster University.

Elements of Informed Consent

Consent Form Instructions: Include the following essential information and offer a copy to the volunteer.

  • General purpose of the study.
  • Must be on Psychology Department Letterhead is a blank sample in Word
  • Description of the procedure(s) from the volunteer’s point of view.
  • Description of possible physical, psychological or social risks including discomforts, embarrassments, or annoyances; if none, say so.
  • If the study is providing an incentive to participate and/or reimbursement for participants expenses (e.g. parking).
  • Description of the benefits of the study; if no direct benefits to the participants, say so.
  • A statement that the volunteer may refuse to answer questions or not complete some part of the procedure or withdraw from the study.
  • A statement about provisions for privacy and confidentiality (anonymity or double-blind identification code plus information about access to the stored data).
  • A statement that the research has been reviewed by the Psychology Student Research Ethics Committee (PSREC). If there are any questions to contact the MREB Secretariat at ethicsoffice@mcmaster.ca, x23142.
  • Identities of researchers, sponsoring agencies, and contact information.

The McMaster Research Ethics Board also has an instructive checklist on the key elements of informed consent, found on the Forms and Templates page.

Submitting an Application

Students who have a thesis or individual research project (or small group project), must use the MacREM online system to submit their application. MacID is required and their supervisors must be registered with MacREM as well. Registration just means logging in once to MacREM.

Please Contact Research Ethics Officer with any questions: 905-525-9140 ext. 23142.