Graduate and Undergraduate Ethics Review

All research involving human subjects requires a certificate of ethical acceptability before the research is conducted. This also applies to graduate student research and undergraduate course work (class projects, research projects, thesis research) conducted with human subjects.

Ethics review ensures that research conducted with human subjects respects participants’ rights. For example, participants should know what they get into when they agree to participate in research and must be informed of their rights, such as their right to confidentiality or their right to withdraw from the research at any time. Ethics review also ensures that participants are not harmed physically or psychologically, and considers the special needs of vulnerable populations involved in research, such as children.

In order to obtain a certificate of ethical acceptability, graduate students have to submit a summary protocol form (SPF; documents detailing the research and provisions made to ensure its ethical acceptability) and additional documentation to the appropriate research ethics committee.

All relevant forms can be found on the Office of Research website.

At Concordia University, there are two levels of research ethics committees in place:

  1. the University Human Research Ethics Committee (UHREC), and
  2. departmental ethics sub-committees.

There are also two levels of review at the UHREC:

  1. full reviews require that the committee meet to discuss the SPF, and
  2. expedited reviews involve independent review by at least two members of the UHREC.

The departmental ethics subcommittees are appointed by the department chair. These sub-committees become a part of the URHEC “disciplinary college”. The UHREC reviews all faculty-level SPFs as well as any graduate student SPFs that are deemed to involve more than “minimal risk” to the participants. Any graduate student SPFs that are less than minimal risk are sent by the University ethics office to the appropriate members of the UHREC disciplinary college for review (i.e., the corresponding departmental sub-committee – see below). When not acting under the auspices of the UHREC disciplinary college, the departmental ethics sub-committees are allowed only to review abbreviated SPF forms for course work, and only where this work is less than minimal risk for participants.

All questions concerning research ethics should be directly to the Office of Research c/o the Compliance Officer Kyla Wiscombe. 848-2424 ext 7481, email hidden; JavaScript is required

Questions regarding Abbreviated Summary Protocol forms for class and student related projects may be directed to the Department Ethics Committee. The committee for 2012-2013 includes Professors Maurice Charland and Tagny Duff.

The Process

In order to prepare appropriate documentation and to submit it to the relevant committee, students and faculty need to consider the following:

1. Are you faculty applying for ethics review on behalf of your students for a class project? Are you an undergraduate or graduate student undertaking a project for a course that requires ethics review? Does the research pose minimal risk for the participants (see item 5 below for an outline of ‘minimal risk’)?

Yes – fill out the Abbreviated Summary Protocol Form, consent form and relevant info (such as interview questions and/or flyer announcements for recruitment purposes) provided here.

This info will automatically be submitted directly to the members of the Departmental Ethics Sub-committee.

No – See questions 2, 3, 4 and 5

2. Is the research related to a graduate student’s thesis and/or research-creation project research? Is the research ‘minimal risk’ for participants (see item 5 below)?

Yes – The student must submit the following documentation to the UHREC, c/o Office of Research, GM 1000.


  • Summary Protocol Form (SPF)
  • Consent form
  • Sample questions and flyers used for recruitment of participants where appropriate

The SPF must be signed by both the graduate student and the faculty supervisor. The university ethics office will then forward the application to the appropriate members of the UHREC Disciplinary College (i.e., in our case, the Communication Studies Department ethics sub-committee members) for review. All decisions and further recommendations for the protocol will be managed by the University Ethics office.

No – See  question 1, 3 and 5.

3. Is the research project or thesis research part of a faculty member’s research? (e.g. RA research projects)

Yes – For projects covered under a faculty member’s previously approved research protocol, no new submission is required.

No – Projects that are not part of a faculty member’s approved research protocol require a new submission (answer questions 2 and 5).

4. Is the student research funded externally (e.g., by FQRSC or SSHRC) or internally (e.g., CASA grant)?

Yes – For new student thesis projects which are supported by external or internal grants, a submission of SPF’s must be submitted for review. Funds will not be released without the approved SPF.


  • Summary Protocol Form (SPF)
  • Consent form
  • Sample questions and flyers used for recruitment of participants where appropriate

These documents must be submitted to the UHREC, c/o Office of Research, GM 1000.

No – For new projects which are not supported by external or internal grants (e.g., class projects, individual research projects not supervised by a faculty member), the student must submit the following documentation to the departmental sub-committee via email/the online forms.

  • Full SPF for graduate student research
  • Abbreviated SPF for student class projects
  • Consent forms
  • Sample questions and flyers to recruit participants if appropriate

5. Is the research beyond minimal risk?

Minimal risk is defined as a context in which “potential subjects can reasonably be expected to regard the probability and magnitude of possible harms implied by participation in the research to be no greater than those encountered by the subject in those aspects of his or her everyday life that relate to the research.” (Tri-Council Policy Statement). Research using stimuli and procedures that would not usually be encountered by participants in daily life (e.g., taste tests involving ingredients that are not commercially available) are beyond minimal risk, as is research involving vulnerable populations (e.g., children) as well as research involving indigenous peoples.

Any research with human participants that is beyond ‘minimal risk’ must be evaluated by the UHREC (NB – not the departmental sub-committee or ‘disciplinary college’ members). This is the case for thesis work, thesis project work, or course work.

Yes – For new research projects which are beyond minimal risk, SPF’s must be submitted for full review:


  • Summary Protocol Form (SPF)
  • Consent form
  • Sample questions and flyers used for recruitment of participants where appropriate

These documents must be submitted to the UHREC, c/o Office of Research, GM 1000.

No – Follow procedures identified through questions 1, 2, 3 and 4.


It is mandatory that all forms are signed. If sending forms electronically please ensure that a digital signature is included or a scanned copy of a handwritten signature.  Applications without a signature will be returned to the applicant.

When should SPF and other forms be submitted?

For class projects: At least a month prior to assignment due date.

For graduate projects/theses: Immediately after thesis proposal defense is completed.

Expected turn around time from the time of submission to reply from review committees

For Abbreviated Summary Protocol Forms for class related project submitted to the department committee:

If all forms are complete, the turn around time for these forms is approximately a week. Please  submit your forms well in advance of the project deadlines. You should not start your research work until you have received ethics approval. It is therefore recommended that you submit them at least one month before the class project due date.

SPF forms for graduate student thesis and research-creation projects for minimal risk applications:

Turn around time for the SPF’s is approximately two weeks. It is recommended that students submit the forms as soon as their thesis proposal defense has been completed. Please note that occasionally SPF forms require revision and this can add additional time to the application process. NB – all graduate student thesis or thesis research-creation project work involving human subjects must submit their SPF forms and other relevant information to the UHREC, c/o Office of Research, GM 1000. This office will then coordinate sending student applications to the appropriate departmental sub-committee and managing all communications with the student regarding the status of their application.

Please note beyond minimal risk applications will take longer to assess.

For more information and all relevant forms, visit the Office of Research website.

Read the Tricouncil Policy Statement on Ethical Treatment Involving Humans.