Ethics and originality in doctoral research in the UK

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To show that the ethics governance process in the UK is not necessarily conducive to innovative investigation by doctoral students.


Doctoral students need to demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge. This paper critically evaluates the concept of knowledge in relation to the concept of research paradigms. The purpose of this is to situate different claims to originality and show that original knowledge in nursing is always ethical knowledge of nursing.

Data sources

Academic databases, local and national policy documents.

Review methods

Ethics governance procedures in nurse research in the UK are summarised. These are contrasted with ethical issues embedded in day-to-day nursing practice.


The author's argument is that current methods of ethics governance for doctoral research in the UK can be detrimental to the construction of original knowledge in nursing. This is because original research in nursing necessarily affects the ethics of care, but the gatekeeping function of risk-averse ethics committees tends to prevent students attempting ethically complex studies. This means less important research gets carried out.


To mitigate these issues, doctoral students need to develop a solid understanding of the ethics governance process. They need to build relationships with relevant ethics committees. University ethics committees are ideally placed to help with this process.

Implications for research/practice

Without original research practice will remain reactive. Originality entails risk on the part of both researcher and ethics committee. Positive risk taking is more feasible in the context of collaboration and mutual understanding. Nurses should become more active in research governance.

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