UW Graduate School

What You Need to Know about Human Subjects and Animal Subjects for Dissertations

by Professor Emeritus Melissa Austin, Public Health Genetics; Marina Alberti, professor, Urban Design and Planning; and Woody Sullivan, professor, Astrobiology


Research involving animals or humans is an essential component of many dissertation research projects. Knowing how to comply with regulations governing human and animal research is critically important to many graduate students. These regulations enhance academic integrity while also protecting research subjects.

The first step: Be advised of compliance mandates

The Graduate School requires submission of a completed “Use of Human and Animal Subjects for UW Graduate Student Theses and Dissertations” form to ensure that students have been advised about the need to comply with UW requirements for research before beginning their dissertation research. These compliance mandates are from the UW Human Subjects Division and Institutional Animal Care Use Committee. The form must be signed by both the dissertation committee chair and the student, and must be kept on file by your program.

Factoring timelines into your planning

In developing timelines for dissertation completion and graduation, be sure to factor in the time necessary to receive approval from the UW Human Subjects Division or the Animal Care Committee, and the need to comply with any other departmental or collaborating institutions’ requirements. Time required for review and approval ranges widely. Allocate enough time for the entire review process, including the possibility of resubmission and reconsideration.

You may NOT proceed with the human subjects or animal care research component of your dissertation until you have a UW approval number. This rule includes approval for exempt, minimal risk, or full review applications. Failure to obtain approval is quite serious, and could jeopardize completion of your dissertation, graduation plans, and any publications derived from the dissertation.

Resources for dealing with human subjects and animal subjects issues

The UW Human Subjects Division website includes many helpful sources of information, including:

  • Introduction to the Human Subjects Review Process, from the UW Human Subjects Division
  • Locations and instructions for completing the human subjects/animal subjects application
  • Helpful links and instructions about specific issues that may arise in your research, including a checklist for preparing a consent form