Ethical research means better research

Published: Wednesday 29th October 2014

Have you ever submitted an ethics application and then wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the Ethics Committee?

Earlier this year, as part of its research intensification strategy, ACU Research relaunched a longstanding part of its research culture - the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).

The HREC acts to ensure that all ACU research which involves humans is conducted in an ethical manner, and that the rights and interests of research participants are protected. For example, this might mean researchers demonstrate their awareness and understanding of the relevant cultural protocols required if they wish to undertake research with a remote Indigenous community.

Susanna Gorman is the newly appointed Research Ethics Manager at ACU. Susanna has extensive experience in the area of university research ethics, spanning over 20 years.

Susanna said that the HREC makes sure that ACU meets important government legislation.

"By law, ACU must conform to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. We must also meet the requirements of funding agencies, such as the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council."

But as well as adhering to government guidelines, Susanna says that the Committee has another very important function.

"As public institutions, universities hold a special place in society and researchers are in a privileged position. We support that trust through our commitment to ethical research and want to ensure that ACU research is undertaken with integrity and respect for the rights and interests of participants."

Susanna said that rather than being seen as a stumbling block, review by the Committee may offer valuable insights to researchers about their work.

"Ethical research means better research. We would like researchers to perceive the HREC as a resource to assist them to reach their goals and as a guide to maximum participant and researcher well-being."

"The ethics review process is an opportunity for critical reflection, something that is increasingly rare these days. And because we are at a Catholic University, it invites us to consider research ethics as an extension of respect for human dignity," said Susanna.

The HREC is chaired on an honorary basis by Dr Nadia Crittenden, a psychologist from the University of Wollongong, who has many years of experience in research ethics. Dr Crittenden is supported by Susanna and Kylie Pashley, Research Ethics Officer.

"Kylie, who is based on the Brisbane campus, has guided many research staff and students through the ethics approval process and her knowledge and experience is a real asset to the Committee," said Susanna.

The HREC is comprised of a mixture of ACU academics and external volunteers.

"It's a range of interesting people, all of whom are from many different backgrounds including the law, teaching and religious ministry. They all bring their own unique perspective to the Committee and we are really grateful that they give up their time to help us," said Susanna.

The HREC will soon launch the ACU Indigenous Research Ethics Advisory Panel (IREAP) which will be chaired by Associate Professor Nerida Blair, Faculty of Education and Arts. Ethics applications with an Indigenous element will now be referred to IREAP for consideration before final review by the HREC.

Further details about the IREAP will be announced shortly.

The HREC meets monthly in North Sydney. If you are interested in finding out more about its work or would be interested in attending a meeting as an observer, please contact Susanna on or 02 9739 2519.