Research Ethics

As a researcher, you will come to realize that questions of research ethics are becoming increasingly relevant. For instance, this could be when you are applying for third-party funding, particularly from the EU, or when you are looking to publish your research findings in high-caliber academic journals. However, even if neither of these are relevant to your work, any responsible researcher should be expected to take a moment and consider the ethical aspects of their work. 

Although this website gives you something of an introduction to the issue of research ethics, it nevertheless goes without saying that you should let us know if you have any questions.
If you email us some questions about a specific research project or proposal, please attach a short description of the project, if you have one, and tell us the deadline for your proposal if applicable.

What is research ethics?

If the concept is new to you, you are probably wondering what “research ethics” even means, both generally and regarding your own area of research in particular.

Research ethics is about the principle of “doing the right thing” in planning, conducting and following up your research. Ethically sound research work hinges on showing respect to the individual—particularly the participants in your research project—and to society and the environment and being conscious of your responsibility in these areas. Showing a certain sensitivity regarding potential consequences of your research for society and the environment is also part of what research ethics is.

Of course, not every field of research will have as many ethical aspects or ones that are as delicate. Nevertheless, your research can only benefit from you scrutinizing it under the microscope of ethics in order to become aware of any potential challenges.

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For additional general information, we recommend the following sources:

The Embassy offers a huge amount of information, training modules and discussion forums on ethics and integrity in research.
As an open-access tool, it invites users explicitly to get actively involved.

The Embassy is backed by the EnTIRE and VIRT2UE project and funded from the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework program.


ENERI, the European Network of Research Ethics and Research Integrity, aims to foster dialogue between experts in research ethics and research integrity.
However, it has also developed several useful tools for researchers:

ENERI’s “Decision Tree” gives you an excellent general introduction to research ethics
and guides you through a process that will show you what ethical considerations are relevant in which areas of your specific research field:

Research ethics and applying for third-party funding

You will need to address the issue of research ethics when you apply for EU funding, if not before. Here too, there are various online sources to help you, some of which we have listed here.

You can find details of the people to contact about managing research data, points to bear in mind when collaborating with the Global South and regulations governing animal experiments at the bottom of this page.

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EU Funding

You will be required to complete the Ethics Self-Assessment if you are applying for funding from the European Commission.
To help you with this, the Commission has published several sets of guidelines and instructions, which themselves point you toward additional documents where necessary. 
You can find basic ethical standards in the corresponding program and in Article 14 and Annex 5 of the Model Grant Agreement.

Even though our web page is updated regularly, please make sure that you check the Commission’s Participant Portal to see if there have been any updates or changes in this regard before you start working on your Ethics Self-Assessment.

The ethics assessment process and its consequences are described on page 22 onward of this fundamental document.
It goes on to list additional relevant documents, including all of the guidelines mentioned below:

This handbook takes you step by step through the Ethics Self-Assessment with a wealth of helpful information, additional documents and specific tips:

The underlying document is the guidance on ethics and data protection:

There is a corresponding decision tree for this too. The “Ethics and Data Protection Decision Tree” will guide you through the process of identifying what aspects are relevant to your project:

Please also consider getting in touch with the Research Data Service Center (see below for contact details).6

If a project harbors some critical issues, particular care will be needed in determining the next steps. The guidelines on “Identifying serious and complex ethics issues in EU-funded research” will help here:

Unlike under Horizon 2020, questions relating to the potential dual use of research findings are no longer covered by the ethics assessment. However, the potential for findings to be misused is indeed scrutinized:

All parties involved in a project are obliged to comply with the ALLEA Code:

Funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

The German Research Foundation (DFG) also asks about research ethics in proposals.  

When submitting a proposal to the DFG, you will find information on its ethical requirements in Section 5.1 and, for clinical trials, in Part II of the Special Instructions in the “Proposal Preparation Instructions”:

More details are given in the subject-specific sections of the “General Questions about Proposals and Proposal Submission,” which you will find on the FAQ page:

Specifically for security-relevant research, the DFG and the Leopoldina have published a set of recommendations entitled “Scientific Freedom and Scientific Responsibility – Recommendations on Handling Security-Relevant Research”: 

Other points of contact at the University of Bonn

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Research data management

You can get help with managing your research data from the Research Data Service Center.

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Nagoya Protocol

Information on the “Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization” can be found here:

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Animal Experiments

The new Animal Welfare Unit can assist you if your research involves animal experiments.


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Nadine Kollmeyer

Forschungsreferentin Ethik
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