Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.12A, 30-39
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
Writing for Ethical Research: Novice Researchers, Writing,
and the Experience of Experiential Narrative
William Edgar Boyd 1, Sharon Parry2, Nici Burger2, Jo Kelly2,
Wendy Boyd2, Jubilee Smith2
1School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cros s University, Lism o re, Australia
2School of Education, Southern Cross Univ ersity, Lismore, Austr alia
Received October 17th, 2103; revised November 17th, 2013; accepted November 24th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 William Edgar Boyd et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copy-
rights © 2013 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property William Edgar Boyd et al. A ll
Copyright © 2013 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
The objective of this paper is to better understand how to bring the experience of applying for research
ethics approval closer to the practice of research planning. The hypothesis is that, while experienced
scholars understand the ethics writing process, early career scholars find that understanding is harder. We
adopt experiential narrative methodology to explore individual understandings of the ethics writing proc-
ess as case studies providing insight into relationships between academic and institutional process. We
adopt this approach since experiential narrative allows academics to explore social processes while pro-
viding professional development. Building narratives of the experience of applying for research ethics
approval, we present six personal accounts from the perspectives of the research ethics committee chair, a
senior supervising academic, two early career academics and two doctoral candidates. The paper de-
scribes our experience through individual and collective experiential narratives, engaging the narratives of
scholarship, intellectual context, participant and power relationships, and professional growth. Extending
a previous argument that deeper engagement with ethical curricula will transform students, we demon-
strate the effect of deeper engagement upon early career scholars, and demonstrate that the bureaucratic
writing embedded in the research ethics proposal can be harnessed to mentor both early and later career
writing and scholarly development.
Keywords: Ethical Autoethnography; Experiential Narrative; Reflective Scholarly Writing;
Transdisciplinary Writing Structures; Research Ethics
… believing in narrative, we must also believe that the story
is not finished, that there are other possibilities, and that other
voices will enrich and expand it. [Clark & Rossiter, 2008: 69]
Here is a story: In 2002, Heifetz and Linsky wrote that pro-
fessional reflection was likened to “going to the balcony from
the dance floor”. They played with the notion of stepping out of
the dance, sitting above the thrall, watching the patterns of the
dance from outside, giving the writer an outsider’s different
perception of behaviour and action. The dance acquires new
meaning to the experience of dance: new patterns, new rela-
tionships, and new art, which are seen through other lenses. The
trick, as it seems, is to find the viewpoint that provides new
perspectives, the balcony from which to watch.
Searby and Tripses (2011) took that metaphor—in terms of
their own personal writing spaces, away from the office and
classroom—to craft a tightly structured reflective examination
on their roles as mentors and teachers of mentoring in educa-
tional settings. Whilst drawing on a range of scholarly critical
and analytical techniques to order their thinking, their core idea
seems to be to the need to find a new position from which to
reflect. Both realised, reflecting as outsiders to their own prac-
tice, that their teaching had grown stale. An implication of
Heifetz and Linsky’s metaphor is that reflection within the very
place of stale teaching was not logical: there needed to be a
change in ontological geography. Searby and Tripses’ stories
started simultaneously prior to, and at the point of, their geo-
graphic shift.
We now have a new perspective on our work, and specific
goals that will guide our efforts in the next year. Our hopes are
high. The best is yet to come. [Searby & Tripses, 2011: 8]
This paper is another story about reflecting on our practice to
create a new narrative, which we expect to evolve and grow. It
began as a reflection on the dance of learning between doctoral
candidates, supervisors and the chair of an ethics committee.
There could hardly be more different stakeholders, yet their
stakes in the outcome of ethics approval from the university’s
human research ethics committee were identical.
There exists a body of literature documenting the nature of
academic disciplines (Becher, 1989; Becher & Trowler, 2002).
Whilst different academic disciplines are constrained by their
epistemological knowledge bases, they are also constrained by
social norms and the epistemological expectations of audiences
to whom knowledge is reported (Parry, 2007). Another key
shift in the nature of knowledge concerns the tidal wave away
from traditionally-mode, university-owned knowledge (Mode 1
knowledge) to knowledge made by its users wherever they are
in the community (Mode 2) as described by Nowotny et al.
(2001). The 21st century’s information age gives rise to rapid
dynamism in knowledge-making and reporting, bringing with it
new ethical boundaries as global research and the knowledge
which produces grow increasingly applied trans-disciplinary.
No longer can simplistic notions of deductive and inductive lo-
gic be rigidly applied. New perspectives on ethical boundaries,
and on reflective practice in relation to research, are increas-
ingly important for knowledge to be intellectually and socially
reliable and accepted.
While we draw on the scholarship of the field to frame our
work, the specific goals, strategies, and interactions that char-
acterize that work are shaped by a deep appreciation for the
contexts in which we practise. [Taylo r, 2010: 1]
Taylor’s observation is a straightforward expression of the
need for new approaches to reflecting upon research, in a con-
text where academic disciplines continue to shape knowledge
making, albeit drawing upon cross-disciplinary and trans-dis-
ciplinary epistemological traditions. The notion of a shifting
geography as a locus of professional reflection has, therefore,
an appeal worthy, in itself, of considerable scrutiny. The pre-
sent paper draws on several strands of reflective activity to
develop new reflective perspectives and meaning. It focuses on
mentoring, by and among the doctoral candidates, novice re-
searchers, supervisors and the chair of the ethics committee at
an Australian university. Their reflections come from different
experiential viewpoints and levels of types of expertise.
In the present context, the mentors (the ethics committee
chair and the supervisor, both with extensive supervisory ex-
perience) have previously mentored colleagues in writing-based
reflective projects. A situation arose in which the ethics chair
and the supervisor were involved in guiding two doctoral can-
didates and two early career academics with their ethics sub-
missions. That support, while meeting immediate bureaucratic
needs, opened an opportunity to work further with individuals,
contributing a mentoring role to research planning—either of
existing projects or in assisting in the design of new projects.
We, the authors, became engaged in a narrative exchange in-
volving discussion, feedback and negotiation to develop sound
methodological approaches in tandem with ethics applications
—involving practical methods and techniques for making and
analysing data. The view from each contributor is different, but
we share the value of using others’ perspectives to shape our
thinking and our research strategies. We could have adopted a
hierarchical mentorship Mode l with the ethics chair directing
the intellectual enterprise. However, sharing the aim of a suc-
cessful research strategy, our approach mirrored Searby and
Tripses’ experience that there is some value in finding another
place from which to view the research design: perhaps not a
balcony, but in standing aside from our own ontological stances
to take new perspectives into account. The two mentors, from
science and public policy backgrounds respectively, guided the
candidates and early career academics from within their own
specialist disciplinary positions, with the ethics chair being
deferred to frequently to clarify ethical considerations and to
advise on risk reduction and appropriate sourcing of data.
The present narratives begin with the dance between stake-
holders in gaining ethics approval to undertake research on
people, and at times, with vulnerable people or with children.
The dance is the negotiation of different frames of reference for
each of the stakeholders, wherein disciplinary, organisational
and ethical beliefs and assumptions constrain and are con-
strained by the individual stakeholders’ frames of reference, as
first described by Becher for academic disciplines (1989). The
common thread is the field of knowledge, teacher education,
wherein the various research projects are transdisciplinary and
applied, so are contributions to Mode 2 knowledge (Nowotny et
al., 2001). The dance becomes a delicate one, involving cogni-
tive, social and ethical constraints in the conduct and reporting
of new knowledge that is individualistic, highly personalised,
and which crosses traditional cognitive—and potentially ethi-
cal— borders.
Experience, Narrative, and Experiential
Simply stated, narrative inquiry uses stories to describe hu-
man experience and action. [Radi et al., 2008: 112]
There is a growing acceptance that experiential narrative
provides a sound research tool that allows academics to explore
social processes and relationships (e.g. Estrella & Gaventa,
1998; Estrella et al., 2000). Importantly, it also provides em-
powering professional development options (Cloke, 1994). Us-
ing experiential narrative, one of the mentors has both explored
his own professional development (e.g. Boyd, 2011) and men-
tored early career academics seeking to engage research school-
larship more fully. In both situations, the work has also con-
tributed to the scholarship of teaching and learning, providing
new discipline-specific knowledge (e.g. Boyd et al., 2010, 2012;
Boyd & Horta, 2011; Boyd & Newton, 2011). The other mentor
is well experienced in teaching and learning in higher education,
and has studied the nature of supervisory relationships (Parry,
2007) and the changing nature of knowledge (Becher & Parry,
Academics and scholars write. Writing is important. It con-
tributes to how we conceptualise our intellectual develop-ment
(Lea & Stierer, 2009). The primary, and often institutionally
privileged, focus is on academics as writers for scholarly pub-
lication and for reflective professional development. However,
in neither case is the writing itself viewed or valued as aca-
demic and professional practice in its own right (Lea & Stierer,
2009: 420); it is a usually just a mode of reportage. The present
study emerges from the ethical and intellectual value that even
those academics who publish little, or who do not write reflec-
tively to any great extent, have a core of their professional prac-
tice—Lea and Stierer’s “everyday writing”—that provides a
springboard for any mentor to work with in supporting his or
her peers or candidates. In drawing on this practice, the present
study explicitly links pragmatic experience and narrative with a
negotiated, broadly interpreted theoretical tradition. The present
study harnesses the research team members’ personal reflective
narratives about being mentored to learn the ethics and cross-
disciplinary conventions they must meet in developing their
ethics applications. They thus re-enact Clark and Rossiter’s
(2008: 64) “language-ing” of experience: “Narrative learning is
constructivist in character, but the construction of the narrative
is necessary to make the experience accessible (that is, to lan-
guage it), and how it is constructed determines what meaning it
Open Access 31
has for the person”. The “language-ing” of the personal narra-
tives is highly consistent with auto-ethnography (Denzin &
Lin-coln, 2000). It also sits within the well accepted, global
overtaking of the hierarchical research tradition of Mode 1
thinking, within the parameters of socially reliable and ethically
sound knowledge (e.g. Delanty, 2001). There is, therefore an
ontological basis for understanding experiential narrative as
both a process and an outcome (Ellis et al., 2011).
In practical terms, the connection between experience and
narrative may happen in various ways, through, for example,
the constructivist lens learning within the reflection (see, for
example, Ellis et al., 2011), the situated learning theorist’s
learning as a socio-semiotic construct (after Vygotsky, 1935),
or the narrative theorist’s narrative giving meaning to experi-
ence (Clark & Rossiter, 2008). It is important that, however the
connection between experience and narrative works, the proc-
ess is creative, in the sense that it helps to make sense out of
complexity, as Jackson (2005) would argue. It provides, as
Colne & Boone (2008: 7) advance, opportunity for people to
“reconstruct… the meaning of events in their lives, … [to] in-
terpret their environment in new ways, and construct… vi-
sions of possible futures based on this curricular experience”,
and therefore to purposively learn. What the authors first did to
discuss those who were the mentors share in their approach to
mentoring. This is necessarily threaded throughout our argu-
ment and findings. Then, without discussing our approach in
explicit terms with the other authors (the mentees), the others
were invited to provide a written piece on their experience of
being mentored through the ethics application process.
Importantly, candidates’ reconstructions may be seen as a
collaborative learning endeavour between researchers as narra-
tors, without a hierarchical power differential where meaning
by the more qualified is privileged over those whose qualifica-
tions and experience are yet developing. Such a framework for
reporting and reconstructing personal narratives, according to
Colne and deBeyer (2009: 45), exerts a greater power: “during
the moments of encounter with a story we are “colonized” by
narrative worlds that determine who we are to be for the dura-
tion of the e x perience”.
The Study
Reflective practice provides… mental time and space to con-
sider what [the academic has] been doing, value it, place it into
context and make mature decisions about what to do next.
[Bradford, 2000: 44]
In practical terms, this study adopts the experiential narrative
stance to document the experiences that two experienced au-
thors have adopted in their different roles as academic mentors,
guides and supervisors. It also provides the perspectives of the
research candidates being mentored, or supervised, and it con-
cerns their iterative, developmental writing of a human research
ethics proposal. One of the supervisors, as the chair of the Uni-
versity’s research ethics committee, developed a narrative style
for the ethical “training” that must be provided to applicants for
nationally approved ethics applications. The other, as an ex-
perienced supervisor, who likewise uses narrative reflectively
by way of providing continuous feedback and clarification on
candidates’ writing drafts, by, according to one of the candi-
dates, “taking each draft afresh and giving feedback so that the
writing is iteratively improved”. Building a narrative of re-
search experience as a framework for contributing to profes-
sional development amongst colleagues—in other words, talk-
ing stories of research practice, rather than training through
didactic instruction—the authors seek to mediate the experience
of others writing research ethics applications as a narrative of
research embedded in the principles of (in this case, Australia’s)
primary guiding research ethics documents (Anon, 2004, 2007).
Elsewhere, the processes of conceptualising research and writ-
ing proposals has been described as needing to be able demon-
strate the researcher’s immersion in the cognitive and social
conventions of the discipline (Becher, 1989; Becher & Parry,
2005), and Parry has linked this with Bourdieu’s notion of cul-
tural capital in academic specialisms. Boyd (2009), in the same
vein as Delanty (2001), has advanced this notion to accommo-
date empathetic considerations of ethical conduct of research,
not only accounting for technical competence in the practice of
research, but also to account for how this plays out within dis-
ciplinary and trans-disciplinary writing structures, conventions
and constraints. The mentors attempt to build upon the
strengths in the writing to question how evidence might be
more ethically obtained and reported. In this way we have en-
gaged in a two-way reflective learning experience for all par-
ticipants, even though much of the knowledge generated is
initiated by the novices amongst us. We agree that we are all
equal contributors to the reflective process, consistent with
Delanty’s (2001) notion of reliable knowledge, where knowl-
edge is made a within and by the community, thus contributing
to citizenship ideals.
The “ethics” writing, where we are engaged mindfully with
contextual spheres of thought, therefore expands the space of
scholarship through experiential and reflective narrative. In the
present study, a previous argument by Boyd et al. (2008)—that
deeper engagement with ethical considerations is emancipatory
and empowering, takes into account ethical decision-making
and evolving personal, ethical and cognitive growth to bring
about deeper engagement with “ethics” writing and the robust-
ness of the research ente rprise on disciplinary, ethical, personal
and community levels.
Because the approach is highly intuitive and involves tacit
knowledge gained from intuitive engagement with colleagues’
narratives, it remains untested, other than by observing the sub-
sequent success of applicants in their research ethics submis-
sions. This present study was set up to reflect on this negotiated,
guided approach to developing research proposals and ethics
applications as they develop cognitively, ethically and practi-
cally in a deep engagement with theoretical traditions and the
conventional research methods of particular specialisms. The
study uses an experiential narrative lens through which to view
our various research perspectives and experiences of writing for
research ethics approval under the constraints of ethical guide-
lines and disciplinary know-how. The aim is also to document
and illuminate key processes in our professional and intellectual
growth, and especially in advancing our individual capacity to
harness ethical scholarly approaches in a time the knowledge
terrain is rapidly changing.
The study is methodologically grounded in ideas rehearsed
above, based on the recognition that self-reflection and bio-
graphical scholarly writing have long academic histories as
critical social analysis (Chamberlayne et al., 2000). Social con-
structivist, postmodern and postcolonial theories all allow nar-
ratives to be examined as social process (Marcus 1998; Roberts,
2002; Silverman, 1997). Engaging the study within a critical
reflective mode, we adopt peer- and self-review that marries the
Open Access
practical application of experiential learning and reflective
observation (Fry et al., 2003) with the strengths of reflection-
in-action and reflection-on-action as described by Schön (1983).
Practically, we harness our critical reflection through narrative
writing, throught both unstructured individual, context-specific
discussions, and individual writing.
Our process of writing-as-discovery echoes the use of bio-
graphical narrative in the social sciences in critically engaging
with academic processes (Chamberlayne et al., 2000; Clandinin
& Connelly, 2000; Geertz, 2000). Trahar (2009: 5) notes that
researchers using narrative cannot know the stories that are
meaningful for participants, and need to trust participants to tell
stories that are meaningful for themselves. We note Trahar’s
(2009) observation that the traditional anonymising of partici-
pants renders the narrative-tellers invisible. We overcome that
concern by co-participating as co-researchers and co-authors,
contributing individually and collectively to the narrative, re-
ducing the risk, as identified by Radi et al. (2008), of privileg-
ing any one contribution over another.
The Reflective Narratives
We construct a narrative of what was at first strange now
becoming familiar, of values and ways of being in the world
slowly making sense to us who are outsiders to the culture. It’s
a continuous process, of course; narratives like this are always
tentative and evolving, which is appropriate because learning
itself has no endpoint. But this narrative construction, this sto-
rying of our growing understanding of something, is how we
make our learning visible to ourselves. [Clarke & Rossiter,
2008: 66]
The writing of a research ethics application is closely related
to, but different from, the writing of a research proposal. This
dichotomy presents a fundamental challenge to early career
academics and doctoral candidates, whose due diligence in
writing the proposal leads to dismay and embarrassment when
their application is strongly criticised by the ethics review com-
mittee. Research proposals are typically written under the usual
headings of title; literature review; problem definition; aims;
objectives; methods; timing; special features; references (Boyd,
2009). However, a research ethics proposal needs to take this as
a foundation, and present it as evidence of the research being
able to meet the principles of ethical research, and using precise
logical flow as outlined by Swales and Najjar (1987). In Aus-
tralia, for human research, researchers must reflect on the prin-
ciples of Research Merit and Integrity, Justice, Beneficence,
and Respect, and addressing issues of risk and its balance
against significance of the research and management of risk
(Anon, 2007). In addressing these principles, the researcher
often finds that modification to research design and proposed
method is necessary. The writing of the research ethics proposal,
therefore, often acts as a trigger for early reflection—reflection
even before the research has really started—by the researcher
on their research practice, and by the supervisor on their pro-
fessionalism and expertise invested in the proposal.
It is at this point of intersection that this study begins in an
Australian university setting. There are disciplinary, trans-dis-
ciplinary and organisational constraints on the nature of the
writing register for applicants to master for an ethics applica-
tion. None of these conventions are explicit, and they are tacitly
learned (Parry, 2007). In the narrative dance between the chair
and the applicant, cues are being parlayed and the writer learns
to negotiate an acceptable writing outcome in a kind of intel-
lectual dance. The dance is finely nuanced, as it also involves
the applicant affectively; they are baring their professional com-
petence, both intellectually and in terms of their moral compass.
Boyd (2009) notes that experienced researchers are already
what Miller and Parlett (1976) would call “cue conscious”,
when it comes to writing ethics applications, but novices need
to be “cue-seeking”. Discussion about the appropriate register
and conventions can begin with training sessions that lead to
the negotiated development of the application. However, those
discussions may begin upon submission to the committee, so
that a delicate dance ensues where the applicant learns the con-
ventions and ethical boundaries in a manner that pays due posi-
tive regard to each party in recognition of the dynamism of the
knowledge base and, therefore, of its conventions for making
and reporting knowledge. However, there could be a very dif-
ferent scenario were the gatekeepers (ethics committee chair,
supervisors, senior colleagues) to exercise their power differen-
tial to control how the knowledge will be made and to wrest
control of its ethical compass.
Textboxes 1-6 present our individual narratives reflecting on
our engagement with the processes of submitting applications
for ethics approval. The voices are different, reflecting the dif-
ferent reference points of each individual, while giving expres-
sion to our individual experiences.
Where Do Our Narratives Take Us?
The moral impact of the encounter came about through a
specific interaction between the narrative world offered by a
speaker and the existing imaginative repertoire of a listener.
[Colne 2007: 11]
Colne’s (2007: 12) examination of the moral qualities of ex-
periential narrative considered that the “ethos of a narrative…
potentially has its greatest impact during the reader/listener’s
encounter with it, because it is at this moment that the narrative
patterns desire and call forth certain emotions [allowing] the
experiencer momentarily to live a different life and take on new
identities”. A test for such a claim lies in our study. There are
two axes of the encounter: the encounter with the narration by
the narrator him or herself, and its encounter by the others. It is
the potential for the reader/listener to “momentarily to live a
different life and take on new identities” that potentially pro-
vides the opportunity for professional development. In our case,
that professional development takes the form of, for some of us,
writing ethics applications better (on the surface) and planning
research better; for others, it takes the form of being better able
to provide meaningful and effective mentoring support. Above,
we commented on using the narrative of research experience as
a frame to engaging the ethics application process, and we ar-
gued that, in doing so, we seek to engage the narratives of scho-
larship, intellectual context, participant and power relationships,
as well as personal/professional growth.
This engagement has expressed itself in several ways
throughout our reflective narratives. In Sharon’s deliberations
of the role of supervisor and mentor, simultaneously guiding
candidates through both the development of a research project
and the requirements of ethics approval, demonstrates the
strength and relevance of Mode 2 knowledge in these forms of
professional development (Textbox 5). However, she is also
acutely aware of Mode 1 context, and helps us understand that
Open Access 33
Textbox 1.
Nici: My experience in writing and developing research through the
ethics application process.
As a PhD candidate in my first year of candidature, I was both a novice
researcher and early career academic. I found it a challenge to learn both the
research process and, at the same time, the academic style of writing. Ob-
viously the two tasks go together, but it’s quite a lot to master. My goal in
that first year was to write a detailed and thorough research proposal and
literature review. There ended up being a number of forms of this docu-
ment. It’s a difficult document to write—so much study, reflection,though
and planning has to go into it. At the beginning of candidature, my percep-
tion of the ethics application process was that there was a fair amount o
mystique and uncertainty in getting the required approval from this un-
known committee. What did they need to hear? So, the ethics approval
loomed, but it still felt like it was a long way away. Uncertainty leads to
anxiety, s o as the t ime for eng aging with the proces s drew near er,I decide
to use the ethics application in a way that would allow me to meet my goals.
Firstly, I thought of getting the approval as the hard bar that set the standar
of academic writing and rigour in my research plan, especially the methodo-
logy section of the research. The ethics committee provided an imaginary
audience for my developing research.
The guidelines for the ethics application are detailed and clear, and pro-
vided a particular way of organising thinking about the writing and manag-
ing the document. The actual ethics application form presented a logical
way of thinking about the research and also detailed dot points around the
methodology and methods of data collection and data analysis, which,up
until that point, had taken second place in my thinking and writing,to the
theoretical underpinnings of the research. The application form stipulates
the number of maximum characters per section. This number constrain
forced me to think and express myself more clearly and write concisely
about my research. Sections such as Benefits and Risk required me to thin
about these aspects of my research, which up until that time, I had not given
much thought to. So, I had to go back and do more study and reviewing o
the literature to work out what was the benefit/risk of my research to the
participants, the broader community and body of knowledge in my field.
The ethics p r ocess theref o r e shaped my res earch and wri t i ng o f the propo s al
in very specific ways. Lastly, the application process requires that all forms,
questionnaires, interview schedules etc. be supplied. This detail makes sure
that, as a researcher, I think through and write up all these documents,
which I might normally have left until nearer the time of conducting my
research. The process mitigates tardines s, w hi ch I found to be very helpful.
My experience of the ethics application process was paradoxical,in that
it was both a big, scary, necessary milestone in getting my research under-
way and, at the same ti me, it provided a deadline and structure t hat shape
my writing of my research proposal, thus providing me with a better written
and formulated research study.
there is an essential relationship between the formality of insti-
tutional knowledge and bureaucratic systems and the poten-
tially organic nature of scholarly knowledge development. Nici
(Textbox 1) commented on the paradoxical nature of the ex-
perience—“it was both a big, scary, necessary milestone in
getting my research underway and … a deadline and structure
that shaped my writing of my research proposal, thus providing
me with a better written and formulated research study”
—while Wendy (Textbox 2) observed that “the process of
writing an ethics application… is valuable for refining the ac-
tual research questions, the aim of the research, the methodol-
ogy to be employed, and for addressing the “So what?” ques-
tion… [ in which] the writing becomes more refined and deep-
ens one’s understanding and learning about the research as each
category is addressed in the application”. Jo’s dance with po-
tentially dwindling motivation was tempered as she re-wrote
her ethics application and became aware that “like my PhD me-
taphor of the Labyrinth, I get close and then further away, but
always, always moving towards my goal” (Textbox 3). Jubi-
lee’s metaphor of the cake stands on its own terms (Textbox 4).
Bill, while on the other side of the equation, reflected on his
intellectual engagement—the practical implications of adopting
Textbox 2.
Wendy: The role of reflective narrative writing as a mentoring process,
and its intersection with writing for, and guidance on, ethics submis-
The proces s of wri tin g an eth ics appl icat ion for th e cond uct of r esear ch is
valuable for refining the actual research qu estions, the aim of th e research,
the methodology to be employed, and for addressing the “So what?” ques-
tion—that is, an explanation as to why this research is beneficial,and to
whom. The writing becomes more refined and deepens one’s understanding
and learn i n g about the r es earch as each category i s ad dressed i n t h e applica-
tion. This process calls for being succinct while concurrently conceptualis-
ing and thematising the main constructs of the research.
Recently, I was writing an ethics application to conduct research to inter-
view colleagues about the benefit and disadvantages of group presentation
assessment tasks. The following week, I was due to present this research
proposal to colleagues. I found that the process of writing the ethics pro-
posal en abled me to identify,concep tualise and articulate the rationale an
purpose of the research, and explain why this research was important. The
task assisted me greatly to prepare my presentation about the research; it
was similar to a guide. During the writing of the ethics proposal,I ha
constructed the key themes of the research. Therefore, as I developed my
presentation, it was easy to move from the ethics application to the Power-
point presentation. The Powerpoint slides I developed to explain the re-
search proposal were very clear according to feedback from colleagues.
This I believe was because of the key questions/categories from the ethics
application which provided a valuable framework for the conduct of the
research and my presentation.
The process of writing and responding to the key questions in the ethics
applicat i on was i ndeed l i ke a mentor for me, al beit an e-men t or as the ethics
application was completed over the internet. It is interesting that one could
consider the process of writing an ethics application to be a process o
guided learning by a mentor. For me ethics applications were considered
necessary task to complete prior to gathering the data, and up to that point I
had not viewed it as a process of learning and refinement of research. It was
a valuable task that led me, the researcher, to a different level of under-
standing about my intended research, and forced me to reflect on my re-
search goals.
The “So what?”task was the most challenging. Why is this research o
enefit? Who will it benefit? How do I know this? I was forced to make
sense and meaning of this research proposal. While I knew what I wanted to
achieve, it was the conceptualising, the thematising, making links between
ideas and past literature that led me to review, reflect and re-write until I
had refined the project to a clear achievable research proposal.
a constructivist approach—with the pragmatics of the task his
university has charged him with (Textbox 6).
In more immediate ways, the reflections represent a maturing
of perspective amongst all the authors. Previously we suggested
that, in practical terms, the path through which this occurs is
probably irrelevant—we are interested in the pragmatic out-
comes—it seems likely that the three modes described by Clark
and Rossiter (2008) are being engaged here. All the reflective
narratives talk, to a greater or lesser extent, of the specific
learning gained simply by articulating practice through the text;
while this may be expected for the candidates and early career
academics, it comes through even the seemingly well advanced
views of the more experienced authors, as in, for example,
Bill’s closing statement of becoming a learner through the men-
toring process (Textbox 6). On the other hand, learning as a so-
cio-semiotic construct seems less immediate although, per-
haps as may be expected, the more experienced authors con-
sider this. However, in choosing her particular form of narrative,
Jo is attempting this approach (Textbox 3); Jubilee’s metaphor
of the cake hints at a nascent semiotic engagement (Textbox 4).
Ultimately, we suppose, we are seeking expression of the narra-
tive theorist’s expectation of the narrative giving meaning to
Whatever the path, it appears that all the reflective writings
add, by each individual author’s admission, to both our indi-
Open Access
Textbox 3.
Jo: The hero’s journey...
Prologue Context is everything. I started this PhD after briefly working
in the public school system as a Casual School Counsellor. I am not a quali-
fied school counsellor but have the maturity, skills and knowledge to be
used in a system that is desperately short of counsellors. With a honours
degree in Ed ucation and a Mast ers Degree in Men tal Health ( Art Therapy),
the public education system appears not to officially recognise the latte
qualification. This is evidenced by the policy for the Education Department
in this area. Only qualified school counsellors can access confidential files
of students. I found myself in an ethically questionable position of writing
confidential notes, including artwork done with the students in counselling
sessions, that I could not have access to, once t h ey were confidentially filed.
Ironically, it was through this problematic ethical issue, I decided to furthe
my studies.
Chapter 1 When I embarked on my PhD, I receiv ed some us eful sugges-
tions that have remained with me, “Leave your ego at the door” and “Writ-
ing is an iterative process”. Both of these little gems have stood me in goo
stead. I knew when I started that I would have to navigate the whole ethics
process and took advice early on from the Head of the Ethics Committee.
At the time the meeting was set up, I had not really defined my question.
The very act of discussing elements of an ethics application helped me to
refine in writing what I was trying to do. So too does doing artwork. Writ-
ing ethics applications is more than just filling in forms. It is similar to
trying to find both the acceptable language key, as well as thinking hypo-
thetically through the process of one’s own investigation in a very practical
way. Articulating this in academic language takes practice, again and again.
In using the past experience and knowledge of others who have done this
many times before, the mentoring discussions reflected back to me both the
do-able and less do-able parts of my research. I believe it is this mentoring
process that has helped improve and develop my writing to the extent that I
am now sur e I can even tually wr ite a thesis in a way I was n ot at all sure o
at the beginning of this journey.
Chapter 2 When my own Ethical Full Review was queried on the
grounds of role separation issues between therapist and researcher with
students in the same school, I put this to one of the school students I was
currently counselling. She emphatically disagreed with the decision of the
Human Research Ethics Committee! Out of the mouths of babes. It was
suggested by the Committee that I look to other students with whom to
conduct my investigation. The trouble was, this would mean not only this
ethics process, but also other ethics forms and to interview students with
whom I had no relationship with whatsoever. I was aware that my motiva-
tion was dwindling. Affective factors influence the whole process in my
view. In the early stages of my journey, it would not have taken much
criticism to have gone home and taken up knitting. The positive and en-
couraging mentoring support I have received has meant that I have neve
once thought to go home …
Chapter 3 My ethical hiccup meant my determination was fired up to
find ou t exactly what was needed to enable me t o jump tho se hurdles,f or I
needed to get my ethical approval through before I could progress any
further. Returning to my mentors and in rethinking the process and practi-
calities, I think a compromise has been reached. I know what I need to do in
order to meet my goals. To this extent, while my investigation is very close
and of personal importance to me, I have to let go and “leave my ego at the
door”, by taking on any advice about my ap
lication. This was less about
my way of writing perhap s, and more about procedures.
Epilogue I think my writing is flowery and descriptive. Better used to
creative writing course maybe than a PhD, maybe. I know I can use the
written language to articulate my intentions, but this genre of writing is no
only about drafting and redrafting by the writer, it is about others having
both verbal and written input. I am getting used to my writing being cri-
tiqued by others. For me it is about crafting, creating and improving,by
ractising and practising. As I write this with a more streamlined ethics
application and awaiting a decision, I know through this process,that like
my PhD metaphor of the Labyrinth, I get close and then further away,but
always, always moving towards my goal.
This image is about the interweave of others’ contributions to my work.
Green repr esents knowl edge and gr owth.
The words are written,
Again, revis ed many times over
I communicate.
The End
Textbox 4.
Jubilee: Reflections on the ethics writing process.
I am definitely a person who needs to be engaged with other people in
order to further my ideas. As a student, teacher and academic I thrive in
situations working with other people. However, when it comes to writing,I
do not feel confident or capable—my self-efficacy regarding writing is ver
low. I believe there are a number of reasons for this—some are related to
my lack of experience in my education degrees, and others related to my
work as a “teaching”academic. Over a number of years as an academic I
have not engaged in what may be termed research based or “real academic”
writing, and as such I feel unsure of my own ability to write about ideas
beyond my own teaching .
So,what would I contribute to the ethics writing process if I was unsure
of my own skills and understanding and ability as writer? Would I be too
overwhelmed by my lack of real experience with writing to be able to con-
tribute in a meaningful way? Would my colleagues be supportive or conde-
scending about my lack of experience?
As part of the process I was initially unsure of my contribution and,in all
honesty, this was not my area of expertise. However, my initial feelings
whether I belonged in the group were shifted quickly as the other writers
(the key researchers and writers—my colleagues) made me feel supported
and listened to, even if I was t h e least experi enced in the group.
As the process of writing and refinement took pace, I felt as if I was an
observer in many ways. In the past this may have made me ask whether I
was able to contribute at all. As I read what others had written and provide
feedback about other people’s writing I realised an important lesson abou
writing and about research. I saw, for me, that the reflection and considera-
tion of ideas cannot be neglected,and that mentoring and collegiality can
serve as an im
ortant part of making sure that the purpose of the writing
stays on track. However, I think, most importantly for me, I could see my
role as part of the writing/ research team.
This has lead me to co nsider that, wh en resear ch is bei ng lead b y a team,
as opposed to an individual, all of the voices, like all of the ingredients in a
cake play a role,and it is not until the process is complete that the role o
each ingredient becomes evident. Although I did not write directly for the
ethics application and the ideas were not “mine”, I still felt ownership in the
process—partly due to the mentoring of my colleagues and, I think,partl
ecause when the process is allowed to be fluid and people are allowed to
move in and out of doing the writing and reflecting, the writing it is
I am by no means completely confident in my own ability to write afte
this process, yet I am now clearer about the expectations, the importance o
reflectio n and the value of each person in a team approach. I hav e heard i
said that there are no good answers, only good questions, perhaps the proc-
ess for me is about learning to ask the questions, and to be confident tha
they are important enough to end up in the cake!
vidual and collective understanding of what happens while
writing an ethics application: the interactions between the lay-
ers of complexities, of conceptualising, responding to imagi-
nary and imagined (and real) audiences—comment on the role
of audience, real or imagined, repeats itself throughout the re-
flections—and the demonstration of personal and professional
growth as an academic, researcher and scholar. Furthermore,
the iterative process that we have engaged in—both the itera-
tion between research planning and ethics application writing,
and of the reflective narrative format of collaborative discovery
by writing—in itself provides possibilities for ongoing reflec-
tion. A common theme is the tension between the bureaucracy
of the ethics form and its very different relative, the research
proposal writing—the proposal needs to be developed in order
to enable a cogent application—and the release of that tension
through a mentoring, supportive and trusting relationship which
allowed the research planning, writing and ethical priorities to
develop in tandem. This working in tandem served two jobs:
one of articulating the investigation to an audience as well as
assisting with thinking through just how the investigation
would go step by step.
The concept of liminality keeps recurring. The candidates, in
Open Access 35
Textbox 5.
Sharon’s reflection o n mentoring ethics appli ca t i o n w riters.
My background is one of research into epistemology, and in particular to
disciplinary, and trans-disciplinary conventions arising from the nature o
the knowledge base. I un d erstand how these conventions, first articulated by
Becher (19 89), and which fu r th er articulated t h rough empirical r es ear ch,are
for the most part, not explicit: they have to be tacitly learned. The conven-
tions are tacit cues to writing in a manner that the audience will identify
with and understand. In the case of ethics applications, there is also the
overlay of the administrative traditions of the Ethics Committee and the
constraint s of national legislative requir ements.
As a supervisor or mentor, I have found that it is critically important fo
the applicant to get the research aim and central questions set in order to
arrive at an ontological position that instructs the nature and shape of the
methodology, methods and techniques to be used. My approach is to wor
iteratively with applicants until they are beginning to have to make meth-
odological and, therefore, ethical decisions about data collection and re-
porting. At that stage, which is sometimes quite early, I suggest that the
proposal be iteratively drafted in tandem with the ap
lication for ethics
approval. My contribution to the reflective narrative process is simple.
Every ite r ation is one I comment on afresh, bring no bia s or judgement from
previous iterations or referring to previous feedback. The intention is to
give equal positive regard to the applicant, until I think the various con-
straints hav e been met. We check with the Ch air when we are n ot sure. I t is
not an al truisti c approach ; rath er, the app licant an d I are lea rning from each
other and building our intellectual capital as we progress, each with our
own different intellectual agendas. What is mutual, however,is our moral
compass, which must be shared if t here is to be equal posi t ive regard.
The negative feedback Jo received on her application concerned includ-
ing young people with whom she has worked professionally. I was no
aware that researcher cannot research individuals (in this case young peo-
ple) with whom they interact professionally and as the responsible profes-
sional. In the scholarship of teaching in higher education, this is the only
kind of data the researcher works with! I have learned th at the boundaries o
ethical research are sometimes contradictory, and that the aim to behave
ethically in research is a different aimfrom behaving to reduce risk to
participants, and in particular, to avoid potential legal risk. At the same
time, there is a delicate balance between the Ethics Committee’s leade
having a positive and encouraging approach, rather than a highly defensive
one. In Jo’s case, this made a world of dif f erence.
As a researcher and a gatekeeper in many research enterprises,I watch
with great interest how Mode 2 knowledge developments test our individual
and collect ive et hical p ersp ectiv es, and I o bserve wi th a wr y lens, h ow eth i-
cal considerations emerge and play out as knowledge production is increas-
ingly achieved by novices, many of whom are not qualified (as in the col-
lective arg ument set ou t earlier ). It i s an in evitab le out come of t he inf orma-
tion age a nd kn owledge production in the 21st century.
My final thought comes from a colleague here in the university,relating
to resear ch in the social s ciences . She t ell s her doctor al cand idat es to “leav e
your ego at the door”. The dynamism of the information age base brings
with it increasing uncertainty as knowledge explodes and bursts through
traditional barriers and conventions. We cannot rely upon Mode 1 conven-
tional knowledge hierarchies: we must negotiate the production of socially
reliable knowledge with our communities. It is my belief that, regardless o
our status as researchers or our position as gatekeepers in the production o
knowledge, the need for negotiating the production of knowledge means we
all must we must all leave our egos at the door.
particular, find themselves in a liminal space within the aca-
demic system, which can be anxiety making, challenging and
yet exciting, particularly and especially when one feels that
others want you to succeed. Both Wendy’s and Jubilee’s reflec-
tions (Textboxes 2 & 4), however, suggest that such liminality
is not unique to students. It may be argued, of course, that the
supervisors and ethics chair are equally searching for their
liminal space: it is likely that these spaces do not align with
ease, although there may be potential for them to align through
the process of mentored writing. As Jo commented, in an email
to the group, towards the end of our writing process:
So, getting a written proposal is a hurdle, the ethics is an-
other and candidature another. Through that process there is
Textbox 6.
Bill’s reflection: Now here’s a funny thing…
Now here’s a funny thin g. Here’s me, an academic bro ught up in the tra-
dition of the academy, a scholar by profession and culture,having drifte
from an original training in the physical sciences through to the social and
cultural sciences—I use the word deliberately, in the sense of scientia
now advocating a central role for reflective narrative and the act of writing
as a modeof enqu iry. Narrative an d writing? Where is the science in that?
Writing, yes, my scientific colleagues use writing as reportage,but as a
mode of enquiry? And narrative, well that’s ju st for the arty people …
In the mid-nineties, I discovered books on the new humanities, and ex-
perienced a sense of liberation from the so-called objective truth! I must
have been ripe for an intellectual re-awakening. I realise, now, of course,
that my earl y days of so cial campaig ni ng, f irs t year s i n Aust ral ia as a Sco ts -
man teaching Aboriginal geography, early palaeobotanical interests in pre-
historic magic and medicine rather than ecology, all reflect an nascent in-
terest in the social nature of knowledge. Discovering social constructivis
allowed me to redefine my understandings of knowledge,and create a
meaningful frame around my rese arch, teaching and service—I have c alled
it elsewher e, “ a f r ame t o hang cloud s on ”. At t h e en d of t he d ay,as I remin
my environmental management colleagues, it is really only the people that
So, when it came to taking up the chair of the ethics committees,does i
seem unreasonable that I should adopt a social and facilitative,rather than
bureaucratic or compliance ethos? It seemed, at the time, the only reason-
able approach: rather crudely,we could bludgeon researchers into adhering
to ethical principles—hardly an ethical act in itself—or we could hold
hands. My inclination was towards the ethics process not as an obstacle de-
signed to hinder the researcher’s right to research, but as an integral con-
structive part of planning and developing ethically sound, and hence intel-
lectually sound, research. Indeed, I had previously published an article
advocating integration of ethics throughout the curriculum,in order to
create what I called “an empowered graduate with well-developed capacity
for ethical decision-making and evolvin g personal attributes”.
What does this mean in practice? It means that we need to re-assess roles
and responsibilities, especially with regards to power and authority. This is
a challenge, I acknowledge, to traditional academic hierarchical structures.
Building on my social constructivist inclinations—that the validity of
matter lies in its existence rather than any singular supposedly objective
truth or cor rect nes s—I am co mfo rt abl e val uin g each p ers on’ s ind ivi dual ex-
perience, views or skills in their own right. In other words,I can suspen
my own sense of authority or differential power: I seek to treat everyone
with equity. This does not mean that I deny my own expertise and authority
in some matters, and indeed I think all of us should act upon our expertise
where approp riate. However,i t does allow a sen se of acceptance o f others’
humanity: it privileges the other over the self. This would be expressed in
some social settings as respect being earned not assumed. In a practical
sense, it allows me to apply my knowledge, expertise and experience,not as
an imposition, but as a partnership with those I work with. That’s the ideal,
And in really practical, day-to-day terms, my approach demands accep-
tance of individuality and personality, negotiation of working relationships,
awareness of other’s skills and personalities. It is not a passive equity,
indeed. And there is always a risk of tension: for some, the authoritarian
hierarchy i s i mportant, and if I am true to my sense of rel ationship, Ineed to
respect that, and, ironically, work within it, playing the senior hierarchical
part. But where people are open to being treated as equals—equals with
different skills rather than levels within the organisational pecking order
then the scope for advancing in a truly human, civilised way is huge. An
the obvious action from this, for me, is to offer myself as a mentor.
However, I have found an interesting spin off from this approach, a vali-
dation of the current higher education mantra of “life long learning”. As
mentor trying to work within a model of social equity, I become a learner.
Suspendi ng hierarchical posi tion opens the door to accepting learn ing with
my colleagues, regardless of their position in the scheme of things. Learn-
ing from ones mentees is, I think, a mark of respect. And every human
being responds well to respect. If I can add to someone’s sense of self-
respect, I will conside r my job well done.
I will admit that I am an idealist in all of this, something of a dreamer,
perhaps , but hap p y to keep chi pp ing aw ay at th e ed if ice o f aut hor it y. So me-
where, many years ago, I came across some lines from T.S. Elliot,which
seem, in ways only poetry can,to capture my conception of where the
realities lie: Between the idea/And the reality/Between the motion/And the
act/Falls the shadow.
Open Access
absorption to some extent, of our mentors language and styles.
None of this can successfully happen without the context of a
primarily supportive relationship. Writing is not just about
conversation if we take that in a literal sense and not just about
words. The very act of writing has an affective component. If
one feels confident about one’s writing, then one is more likely
to develop as a writer and researcher. There is an acceptable
milieu of writing and an academic language style. If one travels
too far from that, then the writing becomes controversial and
unacceptable. Novice researchers are being inducted into the
culture of academia in this process, with its attendant rituals
and a range of sensibilities constraining how one reports what
kind of knowledge.
A further theme recurs, the embodied nature of the experi-
ence. Jo’s notion of a journey places the body of the writer as
centre stage, along with her acceptance of letting go, and of
leaving the ego at the door, both fully corporeal responses
(Textbox 3). Nici’s comments on writing-as-exploration echo
such embodiment of the process (Textbox 1). Wendy’s
thoughts on the role of the form itself as mentor are particularly
striking: “The process of writing an ethics application was in-
deed like a mentor for me, albeit an e-mentor … It is interesting
that one could consider the process of writing an ethics applica-
tion to be a process of guided learning by a mentor” (T extbox
2). To personify the tangible component of the writing came as
a surprise to the supervisors, who considered that it was the
person of the mentor who was the mentor, not the person of the
Embedded in the narratives are shadows of risk. Naturally,
such level of reflective engagement may not be risk free.
Manathunga et al. (2010: 40), for example, comment on the
sharing stories of personal experience as being a “balancing act,
a process of choosing what to move from the private to the
public, [of] balancing a desire to share against the fear of ex-
posure; balancing voice and silence”. Narratives are purposeful
and particular, each being a “reconstruction, particular to the
position from which the writer views the world and the ques-
tions they ask of it”. The strength of the collaborative writing—
the achievement of Bill’s desire to respect “individuality and
personality, negotiation of working relationships, [and] aware-
ness of other’s skills and personalities’ (Textbox 6)—is re-
flected in several of the narratives exposing anxieties (Text-
boxes 3, 4 & 5): Jubilee’s concerns about self confidence; Jo’s
anxiety about letting go cherished plans; Sharon’s concerns that
the “boundaries of ethical research are sometimes contradictory,
and that the aim to behave ethically in research is a different
aim from behaving to reduce risk to participants, and in par-
ticular, to avoid potential legal risk”. These in this case, served
not to critique the role that ethics approval plays within the
institution (Mode 1), but to open space for further reflection
(Mode 2).
In effect, finding the reflective narrative, especially in a col-
laborative and shared writing space, is about finding a voice;
the individual voices, and, importantly, the ability for a group
of academics to respect and acknowledge the variety of voices,
reflects the importance and strength of Clark and Rossiter’s
(2008: 64) “language-ing” of experience. The success in this
case of individuals finding their own voice likewise validates
the role of “language-ing” of the personal narratives in such
autoethnographic reflections (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). Elli-
ott-Johns (2011) recounts a familiar situation, in reflecting on
her own writing paralysis as new faculty member but experi-
enced teacher, spending more time reading about writing in-
stead of actually writing, Elliott-Johns interprets some of her
issues on terms of the effects of external expectations on our
writing, how our disciplinary training prepares us for writing in
the academy and how we see ourselves as writers. In recognis-
ing that “we cannot merely assume that because someone has a
teaching background and a Ph.D. that… the requirements for
success as a teacher and researcher are going to automatically
‘fall into place’…”, she argues the need for professional de-
velopment, peer support, shared writing, etc. (Elliott-Johns,
2011: 8).
Our reflective study provides evidence for the effectiveness
of an institutional point of contact, where such support can be
articulated on a regular, predictable and trustworthy basis. De-
spite the notion that the bureaucratised writing, so typical of the
academy, which demands that academics “write [not] to per-
suade but to impress and gain approval within a hierarchy”
(Brett, 1991: 520), and which manifested itself in Elliott-John’s
“pre-occupation with and … over-emphasis on ‘acceptable’
writing for the academy [exerted] a powerful influence over
[her] ability to write anything at all in terms of what could be
deemed ‘scholarship’”, we demonstrate that the very bureau-
cratic writing embedded in the research ethics proposal can be
harnessed to mentor early career—and later career—writing
and scholarly development. The success in harnessing of this
form of writing revolves, however, on the adoption of alterna-
tive forms of writing, the personal, the experiential and the indi-
vidual languaging of individual responses. These acts of writing
deconstruct givens, and open opportunities for exposure of a
new understanding of a personal reality (Williams, 2013). They
allow reflective writers, in Sullivan’s (2010: 67) words, to
“bring implicit and tacit understandings to a problem at hand
and [allow] these [to] interact with existing systems of knowl-
edge to yield new insight”, and thus to be able to value, as part
of the experimental inquiry, on serendipity and intuition (Boyd
et al., 2012; Dean & Smith, 2009; van Luyn, 2013). Williams’
characterisation of memoir writing can readily be adapted to
describe the forms of writing demonstrated to work success-
fully here:
Writing memoir entails more than researching, recording
and constructing … [t]he act of writing forces a set of critical
strategies similar to that of writing a fictional work: there is a
problem to be solved, narrative choices to be made, a theory to
be tested. [Williams. 2013: 1].
The story tries to mold me, giving me practice, as it were, in
wanting and fearing certain qualities and ignoring all oth-
ers. … This tacit colonization then is the basis for the ethical
power of narratives, experiential or otherwise. [Colne & de-
Beyer, 2009: 45]
This is very much a collaborative narrative inquiry, in the
sense of Radi et al. 2008. They suggest a duality of meaning of
“narrative”: “a story version of the events for the [narrator] and
a narrative as a lived experience between the researcher and the
[narrator]” (Radi et al., 2008: 112). Importantly, these narra-
tives become a shared narrative: while it has to ensure the nar-
rator’s story gets told, that is it is acknowledged as being an
authentic telling of the narrator’s lived experience, the collabo-
rative process enhances this as a “mutual storytelling and re-
storying as the research proceeds” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990:
Open Access 37
4). In Trahar’s terms, we can now think of the experience as
one of redefining the “ownership of stories” (2009: 15):
If the story is constructed collaboratively, then who “owns”
the story? Has it become a communal story of which we all
have ownership? Or, indeed, do any of us have ownership be-
cause the story was not my story or their story but became a
story through those stories? [emphasis in the original]
The nature of this project was one of mutual storytelling,
from the earliest introduction, in a formal setting, of research
ethics review requirements, through the writing and submission
of ethics applications and ensuring conversations between the
applicants and the ethics chair. Final submission, and/or revi-
sions, while probably rarely conceptualised as such, are effec-
tively a shared narrative, written out of the lived experience of
the researcher and, where required, the supervisor, iteratively
developing the research and replanning it, seeking research
ethics approval, and receiving more feedback from the ethics
committee, via the Chair, in reviewing and responding to the
submission. Indeed, in some cases the collaborative narrative
commenced earlier, as the researcher discussed the submission,
and indeed the proposed research, prior to writing. Mirroring
Radi et al.’s (2008: 112) claim that “we need to tell our own
stories as we live our own collaborative researcher/teacher
lives”, the researchers’ and ethics reviewer’s (cum-mentor)
stories have become collaborative narratives. The immediate
success of this collaboration is, of course, the award of a human
research ethics approval number and the permission to conduct
the propose research. As we have shown here, there is a longer-
term and continuing benefit—also a duality—in the ethics chair,
in his various roles as chair, mentor and supervisor, being better
able to communicate his or her needs with researcher, and im-
portantly—and often seemingly exclusively in a mentoring
relationship—the researcher gaining a deeper understanding of
his or her craft and discipline.
As reflective writing and auto-ethnographic writing become
more deeply embedded in contemporary higher education and
scholarly research, it is important for learners, teachers, aca-
demics, scholars and researchers to be able to break down the
barriers of inductive logic where one individual “owns” a par-
ticular perspective, and to develop systematic ways to develop
reflective narratives through a kind of benchmarking of per-
spectives and expertise, so that ultimately a broader audience
can identify with the scholarship, curriculum, syllabus or re-
search closely, and understand its ethical implications from a
more panoramic view. This study is a first step towards that
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