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Instructions for Chairs Student Research Ethics Committees (SRECs)

SREC Chair's Instructions.
TIP: There are other SREC Chairs - You are not alone! 

1. I am the Chair of a SREC this year. How did this happen?

The ideal appointment to Chair of a SREC is a faculty member who has already served a year or more as a SREC member. Keeping the membership on a SREC staggered is important for keeping the ethics knowledge on the committee. That is one reason why a term of service on a SREC has been extended to three years, once renewable. The generic terms of reference for a SREC says that SREC chairs shall be selected by the Committee members and also says "members shall be appointed by the appropriate Dean(s), in writing, in consultation with the Chairs of the member departments". The research ethics staff are no longer obtaining signed letters of appointment from Deans or department chairs on appointments, but they are tracking terms of service on committees.

RULE: Building the "ethics culture" takes time

2. How did I qualify to become a SREC chair?

SREC chairs invariably have had some experience with either research, research ethics boards, or both. It is important for a SREC chair to bring their own individual experience of research ethics to the job of clearing research ethics applications. SREC chairs do not need to have a tenured track position at the university. Having had experience doing ethics reviews of protocols is usually, but not always required. There are no mandatory courses to take, but the annual How to Review a Protocol Workshop,  the Annual Workshop on Research Ethics are highly recommended training sessions. 

Tip: It is not cheating if students meet with you or the ethics staff for consultation

3. What is the first thing I should know or do as a SREC chair?

You should probably have a look at the webpage for your SREC and become familiar with the Terms of Reference. There is a list of SRECs on the website maintained by the ethics staff. You can find the contact information for the Chair of the McMaster Research Ethics Board, the Vice Chair of the MREB, the Senior Research Ethics Advisor, and the Research Ethics Officer for help. Mostly you will be working with the Research Ethics Officer who will help coordinate the ethics review process. You should also have some familiarity with the Tri-Council Policy Statement. The Panel on Research Ethics Course on Research Ethics (CORE) is highly recommended.

Rule: All Protocols should be submitted to the Research Ethics Officer first

4. How can the Research Ethics Officer help me and the SREC?

The Research Ethics Officer is there to assist you in all stages of the ethics review process. A good rule to remember is that the protocol should go to the Research Ethics Officer first, even if it is submitted by a student to you. Not only will this save you the work of putting the protocol together for distribution, but also having to check it for completeness. The Research Ethics Officer is very useful and here is a sample of the ways he/she can help:

  • Receives protocol, screens for completeness, then sends to the SREC for review
  • With the Senior Ethics Advisor, can review protocols for concerns and meet with students in advance for consultation on applications
  • Gatekeeper for the online reviewer system - i.e. did you forget your login?
  • Schedules meetings of the SREC (meetings come with coffee and cookies)
  • Makes copies of protocols, keeps minutes at meetings, tracks information in the database and updates the website
  • Upon request can help compile and draft a response from the committee to the researchers
  • Acts as a resource for educational events and materials
  • Expert knowledge, along with the Senior Ethics Advisor, and Chairs of MREB, on the Tri-Council Policy Statement, and other national or international policies
  • Communicates concerns to the Chair and Vice Chair of the MREB
Tip: Have a face to face meeting!

5. I really feel that I need more education and training for this role!

The MREB strongly recommends and encourages a face to face meeting of your committee at the beginning of the year. This meeting can be arranged by the Research Ethics Officer and the Senior Ethics Advisor may also attend. The meeting can be for educational purposes or for the practical experience of reviewing a protocol together. The MREB sponsors and facilitates workshops throughout the year and you will be informed of these regular events. There are also numerous online resources available on the ethics website.