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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)


POLIS adheres to University of Cambridge's policies on research standards, including the Policy on the Ethics of Research Involving Human Participants and Personal Data.

All members of the Department conducting research must follow the processes outlined below for obtaining ethical approval, or for confirming that approval is not required.

Any research involving human participants or access to sensitive data will require ethical approval to be obtained in advance of the research being conducted. Any research not involving human participants or access to sensitive data should still maintain a record that its ethical requirements have been considered and found not to require approval.

The Research Operations Office website on Ethics in Research gives details of how ethical approval is managed within the University as a whole. The department of POLIS refers to the ESRC framework for Research Ethics in keeping with the HSS School committee.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSS REC) reviews complex or high-risk ethics issues in research projects in the arts, humanities and social sciences or cognate areas. All research involving vulnerable adults or participants under 18 will be referred to the HSS REC after consideration by the Department’s Research Ethics Committee. Approval times for such cases will be necessarily longer, subject to the content of the appication.

How to Apply for Ethical Approval


Staff need to complete the application form found here - - before the research commences and with sufficient time for any feedback from the committee to be incorporated. This should preferably be done even earlier, before a research funding application is submitted, in order to allow time for any feedback from the commitee to be incorporated at application stage. It is however recognised that this may not always be practical.

If you have any questions about this process and the documents required, please contact for advice in his capacity as Research Grant Administrator.


Undergraduate students writing a dissertation involving research participants or using protected data will need to seek ethical approval from the Ethics Committee.  

Please note that Undergraduate students conducting interviews/focus groups will need to be supervised, and you must provide the details of the supervisor when you complete the form.

Please download and complete the Undergraduate Ethical Approval Form and return it to the Undergraduate Secretary, who will forward it to the Director of Undergraduate Education to be signed. Once approved, forms will be sent to the Ethics Committee for review and approval.  


MPhil and MSt students should follow the procedures outlined on this page - Ethical Approval for MPhil and MSt students. 

PhD students should follow the procedures outlined on this page - Ethical Approval for PhD students. 

GDPR Compliance

All researchers conducting studies with human participants must ensure that their participant information documents are compliant with the new GDPR legislation. In-depth details can be found here and here.

If you are unsure of whether your participant information sheet will be sufficient, please include a link to direct your participants to the University's standard GDPR policy for research participants. This will provide a basic level of compliance, but please ensure that you have read the statement too and can provide all of the information mentioned.

We strongly advise that you personalise and include the following additional Privacy Notice template with your Participant Information Sheet in order to provide more tailored and comprehensive coverage- GDPR Privacy Template.

If you have any questions about GDPR compliance, please contact .


Thinking about Risk

Keeping yourself safe is also an important consideration, for everyone involved in a study.

Students who are applying for Leave to Work Away need to both apply for Ethical Approval and to conduct a Risk Assessment. Where the Ethical Approval process seeks to protect your research participants during the study, the Risk Assesment process examines the potential risks involved in your research and how you will mitigate them in order to protect you. 

The Risk Assesment form for MPhil and PhD students can be found with the Graduate Student Resources.

The Ethics Guidebook has a useful page on Risks to Researchers which we recommend that you read through. It highlights five important dimensions - 

  • risk of physical threat or abuse;
  • risk of psychological trauma, as a result of actual or threatened violence or the nature of what is disclosed during the interaction;
  • risk of being in a comprising situation, in which there might be accusations of improper behaviour;
  • increased exposure to risks of everyday life and social interaction, such as road accidents and infectious illness; and 
  • risk of causing psychological or physical harm to others.

The Social Research Association also has a Safety Code of Practice which we recommend that you consult as well.