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Ethics Committee - Lay / Independent Members

All the research that Durham does is subject to ethical review and approval - the main purpose of which is to ensure that all those involved in the research are treated fairly, with respect and that the research meets the standards expected. This review itself is normally undertaken by a 'Departmental Ethics Committee', this is led by a suitably trained academic who is supported in the process by representatives from the academic community and by independent members. The independent members have a very important role within this process, as the name suggests they are separate to the University (i.e. not a member of the staff or student body), in this way they help to provide checks on the process, different views and help to promote openness.

Any research involving animals is reviewed by the Animal Welfare Ethical Review Board, which includes academic and other members with expertise in this area.  Like the departmental ethics committees, this Board also includes an independent member who has a particular role to play both in providing an external view on the research, and in checking that the research is communicated in a way that is accessible those outside the academic community.

Durham is always looking for new independent members, there are no required qualifications (full training is provided) and you do not have to be from an academic or research background to apply. Roles are voluntary (although we will pay reasonable travel and expenses should you need to travel) and appointments are normally for three years. The time commitment varies depending on area (some are busier than others), normally we ask you to be able to commit a minimum of 24 hours per year, but we will always try to work around what you can do.

If you are interested, please email with a short (no more than 200 words) statement as to why you'd like to become an independent member and CV (if you have one). Our central team will then review this and try to match you with an area that meets your interests and background. Once the initial matching has taken place you will then have an opportunity to meet (either by phone or face to face) with the lead in that area to ensure that you are right for each other. The role descriptor below provides more detail but if you have any questions then please contact us via the email above.

Independent Ethics Member -Role Descriptor

An independent member is someone who is not employed by the University or does not have a pre-existing substantial link with it – essentially they are people with no vested interest in the research.

Independent members come from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations. Whilst qualifications and previous experience can be useful, they are not essential. More important is an interest in research, a willingness to engage with the materials and to discuss key concerns with others.

A good lay person can consider the information and take a balanced view of the benefits and risks of research projects, they should be confident in expressing themselves and be able to keep the interests of research participants and broader society in mind when considering applications.

Key attributes

Independent members should:

  • Be interested in research and supportive of developing and maintaining the highest standards and protections.
  • Be able to be objective and fair in their considerations.
  • Be a good communicator and confident to raise their opinions and discuss with others.
  • Have a strong commitment to the ethical standards of Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
  • Advocate for the rights and wellbeing of research participants.
  • Understand the requirements for confidentiality.
  • Be IT literate, many University committees meet physically but undertake reviews electronically too.
  • Be willing to normally commit at least 2hours a month. (Workload will depend on the department but we will always aim to make the time commitment fit around you).

Support available from the University

We offer an introductory training to all new members and a refresher if you want it. You will also be given the opportunity to attend specialist ethics sessions that the University puts on. Depending on the area that you work in, your local department may offer you further training sessions and induction.  We can also put you in touch with other lay members for advice and peer support.

The University does not pay independent members but we will provide reasonable travel and subsistence expenses to you should you be asked to travel.