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Athabasca University

Ethics - Frequently Asked Questions

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1. When is the next research ethics application deadline?

The regular deadline is the first Friday of every month for all non-student researchers.

(Students may submit their applications any time.)

See more details on the Research Ethics - Forms & Guidelines page.

2. What should I do if I am not sure whether my research project requires ethics review?

Research projects involving humans, their data or artifacts, which is conducted by members of the University community or by external researchers who use AU resources or participants, must receive prior written approval of the AU Research Ethics Board (REB). The "University community" comprises all AU faculty, staff, research assistants, graduate students, and visiting researchers. Approval is required irrespective of the source of financial support (if any) and irrespective of the location of the project, so long as the investigator represents the work as AU research.

If you are not able to determine whether review is required from reading the paragraph above, consult the TCPS2 Federal TriCouncil Policy Statement

If still unsure, contact the AU Research Ethics Board at for a determination of exemption from ethics review. Provide a brief description of your project, its primary purpose and how it is being funded.  Describe what types of data will be used, how the data will be gathered, and from where/whom.  Clearly outline why you think your project should be exempt, and cite the supporting section or article from TCPS2.

3. As an AU staff member or student, do I require research ethics review at AU if my research is taking place outside AU?

Yes, review at AU is required irrespective of the source of financial support (if any) and irrespective of the location of the project, so long as the investigator represents the work as AU research.

Application information can be found on the Research Ethics - Forms and Guidelines page.

4. As an AU staff member or student, when would a study not be considered to be “represented as AU research”? 

It would not be considered AU research if you can verify that the project has nothing to do with your AU position (e.g. is being conducted on your own private time), or is not being conducted for AU course credit, AND you will never associate the research with AU in publication.  (For example, your identification in publication of the research would not include your position with AU or reflect AU student status, nor would any background information allude to your association with AU). If it is funded or contracted research, the funding application or research proposal cannot include any reference to an association with AU, and any contract award cannot be based on or refer to an association with AU.

5.As an AU staff member or student, do I require research ethics review at AU if another research ethics board has already approved it?

Yes, ethics review would still be required at AU, even if another board has already approved the project.  AU is responsible for all research involving humans, their data, or artifacts, which is associated with the university through the activities of any member of the university community, regardless of the actual location of the research.  Having a previous ethics approval in place from a federally-recognized Canadian REB may qualify your application to be expedited by delegated review, dependent upon the level of risk involved in the research.

Application information can be found on the Research Ethics - Forms and Guidelines page. Be sure to include a copy of the ethics approval from the other research ethics board as an appendix accompanying your AU application.

6. If my research will take place outside Canada, or in another part of Canada, is there anything else besides AU ethics review required?

Ethics review and other permissions or licensing may be required at an institutional level, or at local, regional, provincial, or federal government levels at the location where you intend to gather data.  It is the investigator’s responsibility to ascertain the local rules for conducting research involving humans at the research site, and to provide verification of what those rules and processes are in an appendix to their AU ethics application. 

Verification may take the form of a downloaded statement or instructions from a government or institutional webpage.  If such an official statement does not exist or cannot be obtained from an official, correspondence outlining local requirements (or lack thereof) from an acknowledged academic researcher with current experience in conducting research involving humans at that locale will be accepted.

Proof of compliance with local requirements (e.g. copy of ethics approval) will be required to be placed on the AU ethics file, when/if it is available.

7. What is institutional “support for research”, “recruitment access”, or “support for research recruitment”? 

If research is being undertaken within a host organization, researchers should obtain the organization’s “support for research” if the physical resources of the organization will be utilized (e.g. space for hosting interviews or focus groups), if research activities involving employees, volunteers, students, or clients are to be conducted during the hours of the organization’s regular activities, or if the research involves the access and use of data that was previously generated for non-research purposes.

If access to confidential lists is required to enable recruitment of prospective participants within an organization (employees, volunteers, students, or clients), “recruitment access” should be obtained. 

If the organization’s assistance is required to initiate the recruitment process by distributing the research invitation or poster via non-public means (e.g. physical bulletin boards, e-mail, mailboxes), “support for research recruitment” should be obtained.

8. How should institutional “support” and “access”, be documented?

Written documentation, issued from the executive level of the organization, should describe specific permissions for use of the organization’s systems, resources, and access to private information such as non-public contact lists, proprietary information, and private files.  It should clarify what recruitment or other research tasks will be performed by the organization on the researcher’s behalf (e.g. distribution of initial invitation or poster, collection of paper surveys).

Researchers may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to access non-public lists and data.

9. Should I identify a host organization in publication?

In Canada, public and private organizations have legislated privacy protection and confidentiality responsibilities toward individual employees, volunteers, students, and clients.  The default is to NOT identify the source organization in publication, which provides a layer of confidentiality and protection from identification for participants as individuals and members of a group. 

Permission to identify a host organization in publication should be sought at the same time as support for research and access for recruitment is requested.  A request for permission to identify the host organization should be based on research design and additional privacy protections offered through various data handling and reporting techniques.

If the organization from which participants are recruited will be identified in publication, prospective participants are to be made aware of this during the information and consent process.       

10. Do I have to seek institutional support or permission every time I undertake research involving humans within an organization?

No. If participants can be recruited outside the organization’s premises or systems (e.g. by hanging a poster up in the coffee shop across the street, or through print or media advertising, or by e-mailing from a public list), and all data-gathering activities will take place off-site, institutional support for the research is not required to be sought. 

If prospective participants qualify for recruitment because of their employment or service relationship with an organization, they should be informed whether the organization has been made aware of the research or not, and whether it supports the research or not.

In situations involving ‘critical research’, prospective participants should be reminded to review their contractual responsibilities to the organization so that they understand and are aware of any risks for potential harm to occur if their participation in the research were to become known by the organization. 

11. How do I contact the AU Research Ethics Board (REB)?

Contact the Research Ethics Officer directly, or email to

Updated March 03 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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