When I began my first blog during my final year dissertation project I wrote a section on the many forms that need to be completed before you can start work in the lab. Naturally they are all very important and are essential in any research, but they can be very daunting if you haven’t completed them before. We were lucky enough to be supplied with sample forms and detailed information on how to fill them out when we began our final year dissertation projects, which really helped! Now I have completed a fair few of these forms I thought I would share my experiences and tips for those who need some guidance.
While these lab based forms are less of a mystery to me, I now have another set of forms that are essential for MSc research to get to grips with! At the University of Lincoln these forms are known as GS (Graduate School) forms. So far I have been introduced to GS1, 2, 3 and 4, so I thought I would explain a bit about the purpose of these forms are and how they are completed.
Forms, forms, forms!
COSHH (Control of substances hazardous to health)
COSHH forms are filled out for every procedure that is to be conducted in the lab, and therefore are constantly being updated based on where your research is heading. The first part of this form involves listing the chemical/biological agents, the quantities that are to be used, their physical forms and most importantly the dangers of their use. While the second part of this form is based on the hazard and exposure potential of the agents and a final containment level. This is an important stage as it ensures that you are aware of the hazards associated with any chemical/biological agent to be used and allows you to properly think about suitable safety procedures that need to be in place, including first aid and disposal after use.
How to fill out the form:
At the University of Lincoln you start by filling in your details and those of your supervisor. You then need to identify and describe the procedure you are going to be completing. This can be very specific (Such as, Gram staining) or more broad (Such as, identifying a collection of unknown samples).
You will then need to identify the chemicals/biological agents you will be using, the maximum amount you will be using, hazard category/microbial category, physical form and hazard rating.
- The chemicals and their amounts will be based on your own methods/procedure plans. For example, when Gram staining although you would only be using a few drops of each chemical, as you would be using the chemical straight from the bottle the amount is 20ml. This is because you would be exposed to the whole stock bottle, not just the few drops.
- In order to find a chemical’s hazard category you can look on the side of the chemical bottle/container for symbols/information, look for a company that sells the chemical and check it’s safety information, or use the material safety data sheet (MSDS). If you are unsure what certain hazard symbols mean there are lots of sources you can use, like this one from Sigma Aldrich. Microbial category is based on the danger of each organism to health and therefore is related to the biohazard level laboratory in which they can be used. Here we are using Escherichia coli which is a category 2 organism.
- The physical form of most agents will be self explanatory based on the bottle/container in which they are stored.
- The hazard rating is determined by the hazard categories. For example, a low hazard rating is given to an agent that has no classification, medium for agents that are classed as harmful or irritant, high for agents that are classed as toxic, corrosive, flammable, and extreme for agents that are classed as carcinogen, teratogen, pathogenic.
For chemicals/microbiological agents that have a high or extreme hazard rating, more specific details are required to ensure safety.
- Exposure potential is calculated as low, medium or high based on quantity of agent being used, physical form and containment. In this case, as we are using a reasonably small amount of each chemical, they are all liquid and are contained in sealed bottles the exposure potential is low.
- Possible routes of entry are then identified, including skin, eyes, inhalation and ingestion.
- Frequency of use should then be determined, as either seldom (Less than once a week), daily (Once a day) or frequent (Several times a day).
- Length of exposure should be noted, based on how long the chemical/biological agent will be handled, for example: a few minutes, 30 minutes or 2 hours.
- Finally containment level is identified for the procedure by cross referencing hazard from most hazardous agents (In this case low) and exposure potential (In this case low). This results in a final result of low or 1.
The final section of a COSHH form is concerned with identifying personal protective equipment required, first aid for all possible routes of entry and waste disposal of chemical/microbiological agents.
This information can be found on most MSDS forms or in your laboratory’s safety/waste disposal measurements and procedures. The form is then signed by yourself and your supervisor, and given to the laboratory’s manager to keep on file. A copy should be kept for your own reference and for inclusion in dissertation/final write up.
Risk assessment forms are used to list all the hazards that are associated with any equipment intended for use during a specific activity or procedure. Scores for probability of loss/injury and severity of loss/injury are calculated and initial controls are noted. Control measures which can be put in place to reduce risk from the hazard are then described. Scores for probability of loss/injury and severity of loss/injury can then be re calculated, including frequency of use. A final risk rating can then be assigned to each hazard, and an overall risk assessment value given to the activity/procedure. Risk assessment forms are important as they allow you to properly identify any hazards that may occur during your research and implement appropriate control measures to help minimise risks.
Similar to COSHH forms, at the University of Lincoln the form is completed first with your details and those of your supervisor. The activity/procedure you are going to be completing should then be described. Hazards should then be identified based on the equipment to be used, examples of these include: autoclave, microtome, microscope, centrifuge. A score from 1-4 for probability of loss/injury (1 being unlikely and 4 being very likely) and for severity of loss/injury (1 being minor and 4 being fatal) is then given for all hazards. Initial control measures should also be noted as either none, part or full.
Appropriate control measures are then described, and both the probability and severity of loss/injury are re assessed, including the frequency of use (1 being seldom and 4 being frequent use). Using these re assessed scores a final risk rating is calculated for each hazard. The highest of these risk ratings is then used to give the activity/procedure an overall risk assessment score of low, medium, high and very high. Based on this score, degree of risk acceptability can be determined. A lower score is considered acceptable in terms of risk while a higher score may be considered unacceptable in terms of risk and will need to be reviewed and modified urgently to ensure safety.
The form is then signed by yourself and your supervisor, and given to the laboratory’s manager to keep on file. A copy should be kept for your own reference and for inclusion in dissertation/final write up.
Ethics forms are used to ensure that all ethical and social considerations have been properly assessed prior to starting research. Questions range from the use of animal tissue, to the physical/psychological effect of research on both yourself and others you may be working with. At the University of Lincoln there are a series of forms that, depending on the nature of your research, may or may not be applicable to you. EA1 is generally for library/desk/lab/studio based work, where ethical and social implications are at a minimum. While EA2 and EA3 deal with research that involves working living human participants/ tissue and living animals/tissue. As my work does not deal with living human participants/tissue or living animals/tissue, I have only completed a EA1 form and therefore will only be working through this form.
At the University of Lincoln the EA1 form begins with filling in your details, your University details, list of supervisor(s) and the nature of your research/procedure.
The rest of the ethics form is a series of questions that address’ both ethical and social factors in research. If all questions are answered with NO, you and your supervisor just need to sign the form and give it to your institutes ethical supervisor. However if any questions are answered with YES, you either need to complete a EA2/3 or wait until you have the ethics committee board’s approval to conduct your research. As before, a copy should be kept for your own reference and for inclusion in dissertation/final write up.
Project materials and service requirements requisition
Request forms are fairly self explanatory, in that they are simply a list of the consumables and equipment you require for your research that either need to be gathered together or ordered. As expected these forms need to be filled in as soon as possible, as things do take a while to be gathered together and ordered. At the University of Lincoln, request forms require the consumable item name, amount needed, catalogue code and price. While the equipment section requires item name and amount needed.
At the University of Lincoln completing this form begins with filling in your details and your supervisor’s details, project description/title and start date. The rest of the form is fairly simple, listing the consumables you need to purchase/pay for and any lab equipment or instruments you require. The form is then signed by yourself and your supervisor, and given to the laboratory’s manager to keep on file. A copy should be kept for your own reference and for inclusion in dissertation/final write up.
MSc Research Forms:
When you first request application forms or create an online account (As I mentioned in my ‘How to find a masters’ post) for the University of Lincoln, you will complete a GS1 form. This form is Lincoln’s official postgraduate application form, and has sections including: personal information, nationality, contact details, qualifications/experience, course selection, personal statement/research description, references and any supporting documents. I found this form very easy to complete as it is very similar to many other application forms, and Lincoln’s online account system offers advice as well as a FAQ section.
After you submit your GS1 application form, and are short listed for study by members of academic staff you will be invited to attend an interview with at least two members of staff, most likely your proposed supervisor and second supervisor/s. After this interview, the members of staff will complete a GS2 form, which is known as an interview decision form. If you successful this form will then be used in your initial enrollment.
The GS3 is known as the confirmation of programme of study form, and is completed a few months into your research. This allows you time to begin initial research work, finalise your project direction/plan and describe recent literature in your field of study. The form includes: a brief 100 word description of your planned research in lay terms, a more detailed 1000 word statement of your research, research methodology and key milestones, details of resources/facilities required and recent reference literature in your field of study. You will need to start thinking about submitting your GS3 form around 3 months after you enroll (If you are completing your masters part time then you will have a bit longer, while for a PhD you have until around 6 months). As I have only been enrolled since September I will need to submit my GS3 form around December.
I have started to complete this form, and am finding it fairly self explanatory with no major problems so far. The graduate school at Lincoln offer a training session on how to complete the GS3 form, which offers more information and tips. If you are finding it difficult you can also ask your supervisor for advice, speak to another postgraduate student who has already completed the form or speak to your postgraduate support staff!
The GS4 form is used as a record of consultation between research student and supervisor throughout study. It has a section for you and your supervisor’s details, and then space for details of your meeting. Starting with a summary of your current work, ethical issues that may need to be discussed, summary of advice and ending with action agreed and a proposed date for your next meeting. The form is then signed by both you and your supervisor. When and how much you meet your supervisor is up to you and your supervisor individually, so the amount of GS4 forms completed during your study will vary. However, the GS4 form is important to ensure that meetings are taking place and that a record is kept of any plans made between you and your supervisory team. A copy should be kept for your own reference, another given to every member of the supervisory team and a copy given to your College office.
A Day in the Life…