The PhD and Ethics

You know how we writers are. We need to know something? We look it up, we go to the library, we talk to other writers, we find an SME (subject matter expert). So in preparation for writing my thesis novel, I do what I’ve always done, which is line up people to interview who know about my subject (Holy City).

At which point I discovered that Lancaster University—all universities, in fact—require an ethics review of any project involving humans. They require it if your project involves amoebas, too, but getting one of those to talk is someone else’s PhD.

Here is what I submitted this week:

  1. A 14-page application answering questions such as “Please describe briefly the intended human participants (including number, age, gender, and any other relevant characteristics)” and “Please explain the procedure you will use for obtaining consent” and  “What discomfort (physical and psychological e.g. distressing, sensitive or embarrassing topics), inconvenience or danger could be caused by participation in the project beyond the risks encountered in normal life?”
  2. The participant information sheet that tells the interviewee why I’m talking with them and how their data will be encrypted and archived in a way that maintains their privacy.
  3. The subsequent consent form for the participant.
  4. A confidentiality agreement for the transcriptionist, in the event I tape the interview and have it transcribed.
  5. A list of interview questions.
  6. A list of the recruitment I have done to date.

Believe me, talking with the Colorado Wildlife Department about poaching this week was a lot easier.

And there was another wrinkle, too: I’m not even registered yet. That won’t happen until September. Yes, I’m a Type A personality who likes to get things done well in advance. But in this case, I had to get permission from the English and Creative Writing department to submit the ethics package because I don’t yet have a school email to send it from—which is one of the requirements!

But there is good reason for the ethics review. Not only is the school concerned about the wellbeing of any person who agrees to be part of its students’ research, the school wants me covered by insurance before I go rabbiting off talking to people and waving the Lancaster crest around. So I can see why there is a process in place. It’s for their protection, my protection—and my interviewees’ protection.

It was a lot of paper. I hope I didn’t miss anything. I’ll hear whether it’s accepted or not sometime in late July.


7 thoughts on “The PhD and Ethics”

  1. Monica SpenceMonica Spence

    Wow! I didn’t have to do anything like that. Perhaps it is a new requirement, or perhaps it is because my thesis novel is about a 400-years-dead person. Good luck on your work, Shelley. It really sounds fabulous!

  2. Jodie EschJodie Esch

    Yes. I do remember these stringent rules before interviewing subjects. If anything, the process kept me focused and made me pay attention to the smallest detail.
    Some days the process seemed very convoluted, but as you suggested, it will protect you and your university.
    All the best!

  3. Katie Hartless RoseKatie Hartless Rose

    Hi Shelley,
    I have just finished my PhD at Coventry and love your steampunk magnificent devices books so feel free to email me if you need any advice on ethics or uk PhD’s.

  4. barb rosebarb rose

    Goodness me! I know you will get it all done……good thing your sweetie is a good cook and will keep your energy up! You are a great inspiration to others too, congratulations!

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