Prepare for Ethical Review

Developing an ethical code of conduct is an essential aspect of becoming an academic and researcher. One part of that ethical conduct is to carry out your research in a socially responsible way. Further, any research at UBC that involves animals, human participants, and bio-hazardous materials must be reviewed and approved by the appropriate Committee or Research Ethics Board (REB) before you can begin any data collection.


Determine whether your research requires ethical review.

  • Does your research involve animals, fish, or invertebrates? If yes, familiarize yourself with the relevant UBC policies regarding ethics approval and training at the UBC Animal Care Committee website. All personnel involved in animal work are required to take the animal care on-line training course offered by the Canadian Council on Animal Care through WebCT. The Animal Care Centre also offers hands-on courses on a number of procedures.
  • Does your research involve bacteria, viruses, plasmids, recombinant DNA, animal tissues, radioactive materials, or other biohazards? If yes, see UBC Biosafety Committee.
  • Does your research involve human participants, human tissue, human stem cells or data collected on human participants? If yes, check out the UBC Research Ethics Boards.

For research involving humans, researchers should be familiar with the 2nd edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research involving Humans (TCPS-2) and are required to take the web-based training module.

Read the Office of Research Services website to learn about the entire range of research activities that require ethics approval. Carefully review all guidance notes that are provided in conjunction with specific application forms. Review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide and submission procedures given on the website.

Discuss research issues and UBC ethical review guidelines with your research supervisor early in your program.

Your research supervisor will orient you to the ethical issues and practices within your field of study. This may include pointing out codes of ethical conduct that guide the professional associations in your field, as well as standards for ethical behaviour among researchers in your department. If your supervisor doesn't volunteer this information, take the initiative to ask about it.

If your graduate program includes specific courses focusing on research methods, you should also receive an introduction to the formal procedures for obtaining REB approval.

Ask your supervisor to explain to you the standard procedures in your department for obtaining ethical approval for animals, humans, or biosafety.

Review REB applications submitted by other graduate students in your program.

Much of the mystery of obtaining REB approval will be reduced if you have an opportunity to review a few recent REB applications.

Ask your research supervisor for permission to review applications that have been submitted by him/her or his/her students, and ask for suggestions about how to develop a successful application for your own research. Find out how long the review/approval process has typically taken for other graduate students in your department.

Learn about all submission procedures and deadlines for ethical review applications.

Every REB application must respect the submission deadlines identified on the respective websites. UBC Ethics Committees and Boards meet regularly through the academic year. Please note that there is no firm timeline for the length of time from initial receipt of an application to final approval by the Review Board.

You should expect the ethical review process to take at least 5 or 6 weeks and note that incomplete or sub-standard applications take longer.

Work with your research supervisor to complete and submit your ethical review application before you start data collection.

When you are ready to develop your REB application, you must consult with your research supervisor for advice and guidance. Your faculty supervisor will be listed on the ethics application as Principal Investigator. You will be listed as co-investigator. Faculty advisors are ultimately accountable for the ethics of research conducted by their graduate students.

Your supervisor will offer advice on the proper procedures for completing and submitting the ethical review application and providing appropriate attachments. Even so, you need to be able to provide clarifying information about the scope, purpose and objectives of your specific research study. Work collaboratively with your supervisor to assure that your application accurately reflects your ultimate research goals.

In some cases, a graduate student's research may qualify for a “minimal risk review” by the appropriate review board, so it is wise to discuss questions about this with your research supervisor.

Be prepared to make revisions to your ethical review application

When your ethical application comes under formal review, you should stay in close contact with your research supervisor in case the Committee or Board requests changes to your application. Discuss all changes with your supervisor.

Note: Changes of this sort will require extra time because the REB will need to approve those changes. Build this into your research timeline.

Also: Be sure that your application is approved BEFORE you begin data collection.