These FAQs are designed to help students in doctoral programs consider the ethical issues relevant to conducting doctoral research in one’s own work setting (e.g., in the researcher’s own organization or classroom). These FAQs will be most helpful to students early in the research planning process when they are considering potential research questions and designs.
Please note that there is a separate education research ethics guide that might be more specifically applicable to doctoral students who are educators. There are also research ethics guides that are specific to international and clinical research. Questions may be directed to IRB@mail.waldenu.edu any time.
Yes. While it is possible to have data collection approved in your own daily work setting, it would likely be less complicated, biased, and time-consuming for you to collect data at a sister site that is similar to your own. Collecting data from the colleagues/students/clients with whom you interact on a regular basis is likely to be fraught with the following methodological and ethical challenges:
Yes. If you wield any authority (i.e., responsibilities regarding task assignments, performance reviews, promotions, bonuses, salaries, grades, or other type of evaluation), then you must take extra measures to ensure that your authority does not pressure invitees to participate in your study or pressure them to give certain types of responses that they might believe you are seeking.
You will need to design your study to prevent the following:
The best solution to neutralizing authority dynamics is to make recruitment, informed consent, and data collection truly anonymous, which means:
This is a common question. Doctoral researchers may not interview their own subordinates for their doctoral study. Not only would the validity of the data be suspect, but such a research invitation is likely to unethically strain the leader/subordinate relationship due to the fact that the leader will earn a doctoral degree (and a higher salary in many cases) as a result of the research. A subordinate will feel pressured to agree to the interview even if it is not in that person’s own best interest, and that goes against the fundamental research ethics principles of respect for persons. Further, subordinates interviewed by an authority figure are likely to feel conflict between responding honestly and responding in a manner that would enhance the authority figure’s professional perception of them. And even if the subordinate declines participation, the relationship has now been altered in a manner that is potentially harmful to the subordinate professionally and economically. These outcomes would conflict with the ethical principle of beneficence. The principles also apply to other professionals who have a trust/authority relationship with vulnerable individuals who are subordinate to the professional due to their dependence on the professional (i.e., teacher-student relationships, care provider-patient relationships).
For the same reasons, subordinates may not be asked to provide focus group, observational, or survey data (unless the survey data can be collected 100% anonymously). And since a doctoral researcher is required to perform all data collection personally, it is not an option to employ a research assistant to collect data.
Instead of interviews and focus groups, researchers in authority positions are encouraged to either conduct fully anonymous surveys or to perform secondary analysis of operations data that their subordinates generate* such as work output or other information maintained in an organization’s records.
Advantages of secondary analysis include the following:
Researchers may analyze the following types of data from their OWN subordinates:
Note that the appropriate gatekeeper at the organization must release such data to be released specifically for research purposes, via a Data Use Agreement of some sort (using our template or the organization’s own standard template).
While it would not be ethical for a doctoral student to leverage his/her authority in the organization to coerce employees into providing data in order to achieve the personal goal of completing a doctoral degree, there are many situations in which it is ethically appropriate for a researcher’s doctoral study to consist of a secondary analysis of data that was primarily collected for the organization’s needs (for example continuous improvement, staff development, funding requests, etc.). A secondary data analysis of an organization-wide assessment might be possible if ALL of the following questions can be answered with a “yes.”
Has the organization’s research gatekeeper explicitly approved any adjustments you propose to data collection that would depart from regular practices? Note that this explicit approval must be indicated in the organization’s letter of cooperation.
Is the organization agreeing to fully sponsor and supervise the target intervention within the scope of its standard operations? Note that this explicit approval must be indicated in the organization’s letter of cooperation.
Below are the solutions to the most frequently occurring ethical challenges in doctoral research:
This is the simplest way to avoid pressuring subordinates, students, or any other vulnerable individuals to participate in your doctoral research.
While not impossible, it is particularly difficult to adjust qualitative data collection and analysis to address socially desirable responses, bias, conflict of interest, and undue pressure to participate due to the fact that anonymity is not easily provided with qualitative approaches. However, studying a site unfamiliar (or less familiar) to the researcher is one way of addressing these ethical dynamics.
The IRB can only approve those specific components of data collection that show promise of effectively addressing the research question(s).
This avoids burdening others with risky or time-consuming tasks just for the sake of research. When the collection of new data poses substantial time demands or privacy/safety risks to participants, the research design will be closely examined so that the potential benefits can be weighed against potential risks.
Unless the dissertation is being conducted specifically to validate a new measure, creating a new instrument is typically beyond the scope of a dissertation.