To help easy assembly of information beforehand, we briefly summarize the application sections here (keeping in mind that complete information should be sought on the BREB page):
Principal Investigator and Study Team
This step will have you state the principal investigator responsible for your study. Since you are an undergraduate, this will be your supervisor.
Study Dates and Funding Information
To begin data collection immediately after the research is approved, be sure to check the first box in the section. Any conflicts of interest must also be stated in this section, so consider any potential conflicts that participants should be informed of (ie. you have a grant from a company to research “how great they are” on a specific demographic).
Study Review Type
State which research board you will be in closest proximity (if you are at UBC Vancouver, it will be Point Grey) and the affiliated institutions your research may be working with (ie. St Paul’s Hospital). This section also discloses potential risks in your study; for instance evoking trauma by questioning potentially sensitive topics. This requires that you state the potential vulnerability of your participants (socioeconomically, physically, politically, power differential etc.). As your research will be course based (through honours or a research practicum), your study likely has only minimal risk. If the risk level is higher (e.g. research on minors or Indigenous peoples), be sure to discuss it fully with your supervisor and get their assistance to complete the form. REB might also be consulted for advice or to answer questions prior to submitting your application.
Summary of Study and Recruitment
This section will ask you to describe your study in 100 non-jargony words. State the research purpose and explain briefly the procedures you will undertake (interviews, surveys, ethnography etc). The section will also ask that your inclusion criteria justify if and why it might discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and so forth. If you, for instance, are trying to investigate the “experience of South-Asian international students on campus during the pandemic” through interviews, you must provide a “valid reason” why you are only researching South-Asian students (such as their experience being typically marginalized in research or your proximity to that social group). The exclusion criteria must follow the same reasoning. The ethics of recruitment must also be discussed in this section. All of these procedures must then be summarized in a step-by-step manner. This section also includes a guide for each type of research. Finally, be consistent and clear with your terms (e.g. stick with either ‘subject’ or ‘participant’; likewise, be consistent with titles and acronyms).
Participant Information and Consent Process
This section will discuss your participants: how much time you will use with them, the potential risks (particularly psychological harms) and benefits of your study for them, the impact on their larger community, and any payments (voluntary consent means that you can offer only tokens of nominal value; not excesses that might influence to your study) or remuneration (in social science research, you may advertise a small prize draw or payment in finding participants). This section will also deal with issues of consent, which means that you must obtain informed and signed consent before collecting data. You must indicate how informed consent will be obtained (e.g., orally via tape record, signed consent form etc.). The section also requires that you indicate whether it will be you or the principal investigator who asks for consent and documentation. Consent procedures require that you outline the purposes of the study and your responsibilities as a researcher. If oral consent is proposed, you must justify why (e.g., skype/telephone interviews with participants overseas who do not have access to a fax machine/scanner, so they are unable to physically sign consent forms). In cases where oral consent is proposed, you must provide a script of how you intend to ask for this consent. Consent also requires that you give participants adequate time to consider your proposal. If there are multiple steps in the research process (as in ethnography) consent must be maintained throughout the research process.
Number of Participants
This can only be an estimate and you must get approval from other institutions where participants may be sourced from e.g., if you are conducting research with an NGO, you might need their ethics approval as well. If you are conducting research in a different jurisdiction (e.g., with Indigenous communities or outside of Canada), you might require additional ethics approval from relevant institutions in those jurisdictions. Be sure to consult with your supervisor or your REB if you are unsure about this.
Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security of Data
As you will remember from your ethics tutorials, research ethics boards want to ensure that you uphold privacy, confidentiality and anonymity (where possible) so that respondents are untraceable. Here, you need to do the following as well:
- Describe future use of data here (as in further studies or journal articles).
- Address issues concerning anonymous information – ensure that the information never has identifiers associated (e.g., anonymous surveys) and that the risk of identification of individuals is minimal.
Includes any grant proposals, documentation of consent, documentation of assent, advertisements (used to get participants), questionnaires, contact letters, and verbal debriefings.
Fee for Service
This will almost certainly be irrelevant to your research. But if your research is being commercially sponsored, UBC’s BREB charges $1000.
After Application Submission
Once you have submitted your application, you may not be done yet. Through the RiSE system you will be notified of the progress of your application. After around a couple of weeks in review (REB is less busy at certain times), they will notify you of the status of your application. Requests are not completely denied, but are often returned to have a section changed or revised before resubmission. Follow their notes carefully, resubmit, and you should be good to go.
Securing Approval – Testimonies and Quibbles
Below are a set of testimonies of common problems in getting your ethics approval approved and how they were solved. Hopefully one of the following accounts of ethics frustration matches your own problem.
The BREB application process is daunting, but in all honesty, it is not as tedious as it seems. For me I would say the entire process took around one month. I would recommend getting your BREB approval as quickly as you can, because then you have time to work on amendments you might have to make, and you can leave more time to do your data collection and analysis. You really just have to set aside a couple days to think about your project and figure out how to explain your research ethics, and start writing out any ideas you have as soon as possible. There were four resources that I found extremely helpful.
First, the documents that RISe offers on their website to guide your application process are essential. I downloaded their behavioural research application template and referred to their sample form and application guides that can be found here: RISE Sample Forms
Second, I tapped into examples and advice that previous students offered me. I have found throughout my academic experience that alumni tend to be very willing to send their successful BREB applications as an example for current students, so never be afraid to reach out.
Third, I did some simple research to answer basic questions that I had. For example, if I wanted to learn about what sort of benefits and harms are common with sociology research, I would look up an article that used similar methods to my own and checked their methods section to see how they approached mitigating harms or explaining benefits.
Last, I asked my supervisor (or the professor leading the Honours cohort) specific questions or troubles I encountered. They will want you to get your BREB approval so they will always be willing to answer your questions, but since they have other priorities and students to worry about I would suggest referring to the previous three resources first!
UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board. (2021). Tip Sheet for People who have no idea where to start! https://ethics.research.ubc.ca/sites/orqe.ubc.ca/files/documents/Tip%20Sheet.pdf
UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board. (2021). Guidance Notes on Behavioural Applications. https://ethics.research.ubc.ca/behavioural-research-ethics/breb-guidance-notes/guidance-notes-behavioural-applications
The University of British Columbia Board of Governors. (2019). Research Policy. Research Policy (ubc.ca)
The University of British Columbia Board of Governors. (2019). Human Research Policy. Human Research Policy (ubc.ca)
TPS (2022). Panel on Research Ethics. TCPS 2: Core – Tutorial. TCPS 2: CORE (tcps2core.ca)TPS. (2018).
Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans –TPS 2 2018. https://ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique_tcps2-eptc2_2018.html