Student research is often treated slightly differently to research carried out by staff in an institution, in terms of the permission and approval required. There are several reasons for this. One is simply practical - there are many more student projects (from undergraduate and Masters dissertations to doctoral research) than staff projects. This volume of work, and the shorter timescales that are often involved, means that different systems are necessary. At the same time, whilst student researchers are less experienced than academic research staff, their work is generally closely supervised by an experienced academic researcher.
Student research may also differ from staff research in terms of institutional liability insurance, and this may be something that you want to check, especially if your research involves any risk (to you or your participants). See our sections on institutional requirements and on assessing risk and harm, and check with your supervisor or research office.
Internal review systems
Many student projects are approved by the student supervisor. However, your institution may require that your proposed work is subject to independent ethics review. This depends on the level at which you are studying - for example, doctoral research is more likely to require independent review, whilst undergraduate research is usually reviewed by the supervisor. It also depends on the nature of the work itself - more ethically sensitive work may be referred for independent review by a supervisor. Finally, it depends on the systems and requirements in your institution. These can vary a lot, and so your supervisor or research tutor is the best person to explain the systems where you are, and can support you if you are required to complete an ethics application form.
External review systems
Regardless of your institutional procedures, if your research falls into one of the frameworks for ethics or governance approval that we have outlined in this site, you will have to submit an application to an external committee. Use our key questions to determine if this applies to the work you are planning to do, and if in any doubt, check with your supervisor.
If you do need to get external approval for your work - whether ethics or research governance approval - you need to talk to your supervisor about the feasibility of securing this in the timescale for your project. Many external approvals can take several months to secure. Do you have that long?
In doctoral research, you may well have time for external approval processes. Plan ahead, and work out appropriate activities (such as your literature review) to make sure you make the best use of the waiting time.
In Masters or undergraduate research, the timescale for your project may mean that you do not have time to secure the external permission you need. In that case, you need to talk to your supervisor - you may be better to change the focus of your study so that you can rely on your institutional ethics review systems.