About Applying for PHSC Approval

My project has been on hold for a while, since I’ve been waiting to get back to William&Mary so that I can survey non Third Culture Kids here.  In the meantime, let me tell you a little bit about what has been the most difficult part of my project so far: getting PHSC Approval.  PHSC stands for Protection of Human Subjects Committee, and anyone doing a research project involving human subjects needs to apply for approval from this committee before they begin research.  Applying for and receiving approval was a very confusing process, so I’m writing this post in the hopes that it can be useful to anyone who is thinking about doing a research project in the future using human subjects.

There are four main parts to applying for PHSC approval, and a possible fifth. They are:

  1. Writing an informed consent form for your subjects to sign.
  2. Completing CITI online ethics training
  3. Filling out the online PHSC application
  4. Having your advisor submit the application, online
  5. Making any necessary changes and resubmitting, online.

You’ll notice that there’s a trend- everything is done online.  Therefore you should make sure you’ll be somewhere you’ll have internet access during the entire process.  That was something I did not do; I went on a week-long trip with no internet access in the middle of the process.  That slowed things down a lot.  Also, I didn’t realize how long it would take for my application to be reviewed and approved.  It took almost a month, and then I had to make some changes and wait another week.  So apply as far in advance as possible!

Here are some tips that might help at each step of applying for PHSC approval.

Step one: writing an informed consent form

Your human subjects must sign this to show that they agree to be part of your experiment or survey, and to show that they have been informed of any risks.  Writing this form is actually very easy- there is a template on the WM website and you just need to adapt it to fit your project.  You will include it with your PHSC application.

Here is a link to the template: http://www.wm.edu/offices/sponsoredprograms/documents/InformedConsentForm07-10.pdf

Step two: completing CITI training

You must state in your PHSCH application that you have completed this.  Completing the training was not as hard as I thought it would be, once I actually got started.  You read some documents online about ethics in experiments using human subjects, then answer some multiple choice questions about them.  You can retake it immediately if you don’t get enough correct to pass.  It took less than an hour.  The only complicated part was navigating the CITI website and figuring out which of the several training modules I needed to complete.  Since my research was very basic, I only needed to take the most basic of the modules, but there are different specialized ones for different types of projects.

Here is a link to instructions for completing CITI training: http://www.wm.edu/offices/sponsoredprograms/preaward/policies/compliancereqs/onlinetrainmod/index.php

Step three: Filling out the online application

You get to the online application by signing into myWM, then going to the “services” tab, then clicking on the “Protocol and Compliance Mgmt” box.  Then click “create new protocol.”   You then must fill out several pages of questions asking you all sorts of things about your project, such as who your subjects will be, how you will acquire them, and when you will conduct the research.  You must know exactly what you will be doing in your project, because once it is approved you have to stick to the plan you laid out.  Answer the questions in as much detail as possible.  Your goal is to show that your project is completely ethical and will not harm anyone in any way.

Step four: submitting your application through your advisor.

In your application you list two PI’s (Principal Investigators).  One is you, and one needs to be a professor.  It cannot be a visiting professor- which I did not realize soon enough.  My Monroe Project advisor is a visiting professor, so after trying to submit the application through her and having it rejected, I had to quickly find another professor to submit.  The professor has to be the one to actually submit the application, not the student.  When you are ready for your advisor to submit it, go to the “submit” section of the application and click “Forward to PIs.”


I hope that this post can be helpful to future Monroe scholars facing the somewhat daunting process of launching a research project using human subjects.  The tips I’ve shared are things that either weren’t stated on the WM webpage about PHSC, or were hard for me to locate.   Overall, however, the webpage is extremely helpful, so definitely use it as your main resource!




  1. Erin Spencer says:

    I can relate! Figuring out the PHSC approval was by far the most stressful part of my research. The directions they give you are very confusing, and I almost missed the deadline on the project because of PHSC confusion. I do think that it is excellent practice for future research- I just wish I had something like this to walk me through. Well done, I hope future Monroes will use this as a resource!