“I was planning to post this article when I have completed my Ethics Application, but since this seems that will never happen, I thought of posting it now”. This is what I’ve written more than a year ago when I was still trying to complete my Ethics application. One plus year later and I’m writing an ethics application again. For amendments this time. However, in this post I’ll talk about my initial ethics application and will save the bit about amendments for another time. Who knows, I might be writing another amendment application for ethics approval at that time again.

To write an ethics application you need a lot of patience, studying well the procedures and you also need to be prepared for an “email war” (emails going back and forth logistics, reviews, approvals). It is a tedious and long process. At one point I described the ethics application as Hydra. Hydra is the 7-headed monster from Hercules’ fable. Whenever Hercules beheaded one head, 2 more grew back from that part. In my case, I was finishing off one form, sending it for approval and getting a reply that I needed to append 2 more approvals with that form!

Despite the frustration this process has caused me, completing an ethics application gave me valuable knowledge and experience on the matter. Having talked to other PhD students, they did not have to go through this process, either because their supervisors had already done this or their studies did not require a lengthy procedure of applying for ethics. As my study involves children I had to do this. But as I mentioned, this gave me the knowledge to be able to apply for future applications. I now know whom I have to consult, contact, liaise with and where I need to submit all these various documents.

On upside, you get to know your project inside-out. Having to explain this to the ethics committee means you have to explain what you are doing in a clear manner (as the committee usually doesn’t have the scientific knowledge related to your project). You also have to justify everything that you do, for example sample sizes, intervention groups, tests, expected results, statistical analysis; and that’s not all.

Of course, each project has different requirements for an ethics application. Some of them do not even require an ethics application. But if you’re doing work with human subjects, animals, human tissues, or other organisms you will need to go through this. And then, depending on the population you plan to study there are varying degrees of detail required in your application. Studies with patients, children or people with disabilities, usually require more detailed justification of the study. In some extreme cases, PhD students never managed to get past the ethics approval; something which made them leave their PhD. But as I said, this is not usually the case.

P.S.: Hercules managed to kill Hydra not by beheading her but by burning each head. Fire was the answer. But don’t burn your application! If I could give one “serious” advice on the ethics application it would be to study well all the procedures for submission. You will find very detailed and clear information on what you have to do for each section of the application, what you need to write, examples and links for further reads.

I will return with another post, where I’ll give more precise tips on the application process through the IRAS platform.

Photo taken in Roma.

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