skip to content

Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Photo by Steve Smith on Unsplash

Research can raise various ethical and risk issues. In this context, ‘ethical issues’ refers to sensitivities and risks related to human participants and data involved in the research, while ‘risk’ concerns any dangers and challenges to the researcher themselves. 

This page provides the relevant information and links that students and staff need for applying for ethical approval, risk assessments and leave-to-work-away applications for their research. The department’s Ethics, Risk and Fieldwork (ERF) committee is responsible for the content of these pages and for assessing and approving the applications. 

Please read these pages carefully before completing and submitting any applications. If you have any further questions, you can contact your programme administrator (for students) or the departmental administrator (for staff). 

Ethical approval 

All members of the Department conducting research must follow the processes outlined below for obtaining ethical approval, or in the case of postgraduate students, 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.

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. 

The Research Operations Office website on Ethics, Good Practice and Misconduct 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 application. 

Click here for more information on and how to apply for ethical approval

Risk assessment 

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

In principle, all students and staff doing research outside of Cambridge should submit a risk assessment. In addition, there may be some forms of research (such as online interviews or participating in online forums) which may also carry risk to the researcher and require a risk assessment. If you are not sure about whether your research requires this, you should discuss this with your supervisor (for students) or with the chair of the ERF committee (for staff).

A risk assessment examines the potential risks involved in your research and how you will mitigate them in order to protect you.  

Important elements to consider are:  

  • 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  

For further guidance on risk, please visit the Social Research Association website: Good Practice ( 

Click here to submit a Risk Assessment

Fieldwork and Leave to Work Away (LTWA)

A  Leave to Work Away (LTWA) application form must be completed if you plan to conduct any of your research outside Cambridge for more than one day at a time.

Postgraduate students (with the exception of MSt students) who will be conducting research outside Cambridge for more than two weeks (at one time) will need to apply for Leave to Work Away (LTWA). One of the requirements of this application is to do a risk assessment application.

If students wish to conduct research outside Cambridge for less than two weeks, they don’t need to apply for LTWA but must still complete a risk assessment.  Please refer to the risk assessment section above for further guidance.

• Less than 24 hours outside of Cambridge – no approval needed

• 1 day to 14 days – Ethics Risk and Fieldwork Committee (ERF) approval needed

• 14 days onwards – ERF and Degree Committee (through CamSIS) approval needed

No research must commence until the required approvals are in place.

Click here to submit an LTWA application