Ethics Guidelines

Ethics Guidelines


  1. What is Research?
    1. 1.1 NUS-IRB Definition of Research
    2. 1.2 NUS-IRB Definition of Student Research
    3. 1.3 Social Work Modules considered Research
    4. 1.4 Social Work Modules not considered Research

  2. Student Projects
    1. 2.1 Undergraduate Student Projects
      1. 2.1.1 ISM (Independent Study Modules)
      2. 2.1.2 Honours Thesis
    2. 2.2 Graduate Student Projects

  3. NUS-IRB Criteria for Exemption From, Expedited and Full Ethics Review
    1. 3.1 Criteria for Exemption from Review
    2. 3.2 Criteria for Expedited Review
    3. 3.3 Criteria for Full Review

  4. Composition of the Departmental Ethics Review Committee
    1. 4.1 NUS-IRB Recommendation for Composition of the Departmental Ethics Review Committee
    2. 4.2 Composition of the Social Work Department Ethics Review Committee

  5. Responsibilities of the Departmental Ethics Review Committee
    1. 5.1 NUS-IRB Recommendation for Responsibilities of the Ethics Review Committee
    2. 5.2 Schedule of the Social Work Department Ethics Review Committee
    3. 5.3 Procedure for Application for Exemption to the Social Work Department Ethics Review Committee

  6. Forms for Download
    1. 6.1 Application Form
    2. 6.2 Participant/patient information sheet (PIS) and consent form (CF)
    3. 6.3 Protocol Amendment Form

1.1 NUS-IRB Definition of Research

A systematic investigation, including research development, testing or evaluation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Such activity may or may not differ in any significant way from customary medical or other professional practice. Educational exercises involving human participants that are not construed as "research" (e.g., class demonstrations and exercises that do not lead to publishable materials) do not require ethics review, unless otherwise required by the Faculty or Department Heads. The intent to publish is usually one criterion for a project to be considered research. Most reputable journals would require the research to be reviewed by the IRB before they will agree to publish the results of the research. (Click here for more details).

1.2 NUS-IRB Definition of Student Research

All student research involving humans as research subjects must be subject to ethics review by either the NUS Institutional Review Board (NUS-IRB) or the Department. This is an important learning experience for both undergraduates and graduate students. The results from such research may or may not be intended for publication or presentation outside the classroom. They include experimental protocols, observational studies, interviews, questionnaires, secondary use of data that are not in the public domain and research involving human remains, tissues, or biological fluids.

2.1 Undergraduate Student Projects

NUS IRB staff has kindly agreed to give a talk to undergraduates if there are any request by department. It is important for students to understand the research ethics requirement for their ISM/Honours thesis.

2.1.1 ISM (Independent Study Modules)

1. ISM projects are usually considered as 'teaching assignments' and don't require ethics review unless with intent to publish. If intent to publish, submit an application to DERC. If not intent to publish, all teaching assignments must be supervised by the supervisor and must observe the NUS IRB ethical guidelines. Supervisors are free to consult DERC if necessary.

2. In addition, if the ISM topic is very sensitive (i.e., prison study, terminal ill patients...), then the supervisor should seriously consider and screen whether the applicant (student) is really capable to conduct this kind of research.

2.1.2 Honours Thesis

1. For undergraduate student research projects, with or without the intention to publish, the application will be reviewed by DERC and DERC will determine if the risk is minimal even if the project involves vulnerable populations (e.g., children, prisoners). Once DERC approves, NUS-IRB will provide retrospective approval when the manuscript for journal publication is submitted provided proper documentation from the DERC on the review process is submitted for the IRB's review. The agency approval letter has to be attached to the application at the point of submission. If there are more agencies involved, conditional approval will be given with one approval letter first and subsequently with the rest of the agencies' approval letters.

2. If the supervisor is the co-investigator of the DERC application, the supervisor should be responsible for reviewing the application and making sure that the student submits the completed application. Incomplete applications will take more time for getting the DERC approval.

3. However, supervisor will define the risk of the research and whether it will be published. If the supervisor decides that the project involves more than minimal risk to the participants, they can always submit the application to NUS-IRB directly. Note: Involving vulnerable population (e.g., children, prisoners) is not the only criteria to determine risks to the participants. For application to the NUS-IRB, undergraduates will have to apply with their supervisor as the Principal Investigator. All applications should be submitted to NUS-IRB on the 1st week of the month as the applications are usually reviewed on the 4th Friday of every month.

2.2 Graduate Student Projects

For graduate student projects undertaken with the intention to publish, the application will be subject to review by NUS IRB.

For graduate student projects undertaken with no intention to publish, applications will be reviewed by DERC.

3.1 Criteria for Exemption from Review

Research that meet all of the following criteria are exempted from ethics review:

  • Participants are not vulnerable who may be unduly influenced to participate
  • Participants are not at risk
  • Participants are not identifiable

Vulnerable Participants: The research must not involve vulnerable participants who may be unduly influenced to participate including children below 21 years of age, students, subordinates, patients, prisoners, pregnant women, cognitively impaired persons, or educationally disadvantaged persons who require special consideration to protect their welfare.

Risk for Participants: Any disclosure of the participants' responses outside the research should not place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to their financial standing, employability, or reputation. Risk is the probability of harm or injury (including physical, psychological, social, or economic) occurring as a result of participation in a research study.

Identifiability of Participants: Research involving the use of survey procedures, interview procedures or observation of public behaviour, or the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, when information obtained should be recorded in such a manner that the participants cannot be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to the participants.

3.2 Criteria for Expedited Review

In order to qualify for an expedited ethics review, the research must not place the participants to more than minimal risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the participants in terms of financial standing, employability, insurability, reputation, or be stigmatizing. A risk is minimal where the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater, in and of themselves, than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests.

3.3 Criteria for Full Review

All research involving vulnerable participants, where participants are at more than minimal risk, or when participants are identifiable, requires full review.

4.1 NUS-IRB Recommendation for Composition of the Departmental Ethics Review Committee

1. The Departmental Ethics Review Committee (DERC) should consist of five members - three domain-specific academic staff members and two "others" (who may be laypersons, alumni or undergraduate/graduate students). The membership should encompass expertise in various methodologies used in the department's research.

2. The Chair and members (and any necessary replacements) shall be appointed by the Head of the Department. Faculty members shall serve for staggered two-year terms while students serve one-year terms.

3. The Committee is encouraged to consult relevant experts within the faculty and NUS-IRB, if necessary.

4. The Department is expected to submit reports to NUS-IRB once every three months on the student research that they have reviewed and approved. Such reports should include the reasons for exempting a research.

They will determine whether the research can be exempted or referred to the NUS-IRB for review based on the risk to the research participants.

4.2 Composition of the Social Work Department Ethics Review Committee

Chairperson
Dr Srinivasan Chokkanathan, Assistant Professor

Department Members
Dr Ngiam Tee Liang, Associate Professorial Fellow

External members
Dr Mathew Mathews

Non-Member
Secretary: Mdm Suraya Binte Ahmad

Administrative Staff-in-Charge
Ms Tan Ching Lin

5.1 NUS-IRB Recommendation for Responsibilities of the Ethics Review Committee

1. The Department shall review all student research involving human subjects when:

  1. 1) They are construed as "research";
  2. 2) The research is eligible for exemption from NUS-IRB review;
  3. 3) The research does not involve deception or vulnerable populations;
  4. 4) The research is not part of a faculty member's research project already subject to review by NUS-IRB.

2. Student research supervised by individuals outside the faculty (including persons not affiliated to the University) shall also be reviewed by the Department, unless they are subject to review by the NUS-IRB or by another IRB in compliance with the existing guidelines.

3. All research not eligible for exemption will have to be reviewed by the NUS-IRB.

4. Research conducted by students and faculty members that are not part of an undergraduate or a graduate course of study must be reviewed by NUS-IRB.

5. The supervisor of a student research, which forms part of the supervisor's own NUS-IRB-approved research, must inform the NUS-IRB on the addition of a secondary title to the existing approved title and submit a Protocol Amendment to the NUS-IRB to include the student's research as a secondary research.

6. For applications to the NUS-IRB, undergraduates will have to do so with their supervisors as the main applicants. Graduate students may apply with their supervisors acting as the "Principal Investigator" or "Supervising Co-investigator".

The DERC will meet four times a semester/eight times a year according to the following schedule:

5.2 Schedule of the Social Work Departmental Ethics Review Committee

The DERC will meet four times a semester/eight times a year according to the following schedule:

Meeting Date Deadline for Submitting Applications
Semester 1
4th week of August Friday of the 3rd week of August
3rd week of September Monday of the 2nd week of September
3rd week of October Monday of the 2nd week of October
3rd week of November Monday of the 2nd week of November
Semester 2
3rd week of January Friday of the 2nd week of January
3rd week of February Monday of the 2nd week of February
3rd week of March Monday of the 2nd week of March
3rd week of April Monday of the 2nd week of April

5.3 Procedure for Application for Exemption to the Social Work Departmental Ethics Review Committee (DERC)

1. How to Choose: DERC vs. NUS-IRB Application Process?

Undergraduate Student Project
Do you intend to publish? Are study participants vulnerable?
Yes No
Yes (ISM & Honours Thesis) DERC DERC (Once DERC approves your study, NUS-IRB will provide retrospective approval when you submit your manuscript for journal publication)
No (ISM) Supervisor Supervisor
No (Honours Thesis) DERC DERC
Graduate Student Project
Do you intend to publish? Are study participants vulnerable?
Yes No
Yes NUS-IRB NUS-IRB
No DERC (NUS-IRB will not provide any retrospective approval ) DERC (NUS-IRB will not provide any retrospective approval )

2. Social Work Departmental Ethics Review Application Form. Please update the version numbers & dates.

3. Students should submit a hard copy of the application and all the relevant supporting documents after consultation with their supervisors to the Administrative Staff-in-Charge in the General Office according to the deadlines given in the schedule.

4. The Administrative Staff-in-Charge will check if the application is complete and if it is not complete, it will be returned to the supervisor/student for adding the missing information.

5. After indexing the complete application, the staff will forward a hard copy to a Principal Reviewer from the DERC Department members in rotation.

6. At the DERC meetings, the Principal Reviewer will present the application and the DERC will decide on the outcome.

7. If the DERC approves exemption, the student and the supervisor will be informed by the Administrative Staff-in-Charge by email.

8. If amendments are required to the application, student/supervisor will be given 2 weeks to follow-up and submit the necessary required douments to the DERC for review before final approval is granted to them. All revisions should be bolded and highlighted.

9. The validity of the exemption is for a year, and the student needs to reapply beyond the validity period or if the student makes changes in the research.

10. If the DERC considers the application appropriate for NUS-IRB Review, it will be returned to the supervisor for forwarding to the NUS-IRB. The Supervisor should then apply for the NUS-IRB review as the Principal Investigator.

11. To request approval for changes to an approved research, please use the Protocol Amendment Form.
Please send the form and all attachments (with new version numbers & dates) to the DERC (Attn: Ms Tan Ching Lin, e-mail: swktancl@nus.edu.sg



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