School of Psychology

Research participation scheme - a guide for researchers

Find out about the course credit collection scheme and other ways to recruit participants for your Psychology research.

The School of Psychology runs a course credit collection scheme, which allows researchers within the School to recruit participants from the pool of undergraduate students. In exchange, students who participate in a set amount of research are awarded marks towards their Research Skills and Research Methods courses.

Please ensure you are familiar with the policy below before you begin recruiting students as participants. Ethical approval for your study, as well as use of the website Sona (used to advertise studies), is based on you adhering properly to these guidelines and understanding how the scheme works.

Student requirements and researcher entitlements

First and second year undergraduates are required to take part in research studies as a part of their course; 10% of their grades for Psychology as a Science and Analysing Data (in first year) and 5% for Discovering Statistics, and Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods (in second year) are awarded for completing their participation. This can involve being a participant in studies, but can also include research assistance (such as administering questionnaires, data entry/analysis, etc). Under usual circumstances, students must complete at leasty 25% of their participation in person (ie not through online studies). We've relaxed this rule over the COVID-19 pandemic, although you may award slightly more credits for in-person studies (5 per hour rather than 4).

Students must complete their participation, and no partial marks are awarded here; students who fail to achieve their 5% or 10% receive no marks, even if they are only 15 minutes short of the expected total. For more information on students' requirements, see the student page here.

Researchers within the school are entitled to use student participants for their research, and to award credits towards these totals as a reward, providing they have ethical approval for their study and providing they are not also paying those students.

Who can use the scheme?

The scheme is open to all faculty members, research fellows, research assistants, and research students at PhD level, within the School of Psychology. It cannot be used by Masters students or undergraduates, except in special circumstances (usually: the student in question is working an an intern or RA for a faculty member on an existing project, for example a longitudinal one). Researchers from other schools may not use the scheme, unless their work is run jointly with Psychology. PhD students have tended to be the heaviest users of the scheme in the past.


The credit collection scheme runs through the autumn term and again in the spring term. It does not run during the summer term or vacation. This means that you cannot reward participants with credits outside of these terms, although you can run studies that pay cash all year round.

Researchers compete freely for student participants and may recruit as many participants as they require. There are several ways to attract student participants: through email/flyering, by approaching students during class times, or most commonly, by advertising through the Sona database, which you can learn about in detail on our Sona user guide page.

Recruitment will vary throughout the year, and you may find that certain times are busier than others (for example, you'll probably have fewer signups in weeks when lab reports are due). During the summer, no credits are needed, so at these times you are welcome to offer cash instead. Additionally, outside of credit collection times, you may choose to advertise to external, using a system like Prolific.

Awarding credits

Participation time is allocated in chunks of 15 minutes, with 15 minutes being equal to one credit.

You should always award in whole credits, not fractions of credits. Please avoid rounding up unless you are close to the 15-minute mark; a study that takes 27 minutes can be rounded up to 30, but a study 17 minutes long should be rounded down. This is to prevent credit inflation, which has been a problem in the past. You also need to ensure that studies are advertised as taking the correct length of time.

You should award 4 credits per hour for online studies, and you may award 5 per hour for in-person. Please note that this is to reflect the extra inconvenience of taking part, e.g. the need to travel to campus.

As part of advertising on Sona, you are obligated to award credits to participants promptly and fairly; this function is straightforward and is built into Sona. You must award credits by the final teaching week of the relevant term. If you fail to award credits, students may be unfairly penalised, so it is essential that credits are awarded on time.


As for any other research, you must obtain ethical approval through the usual channels before you begin recruiting participants.

Students have the right to withdraw from any study without penalty. You are entitled to withhold information about your study, including until after testing finishes, but in this case you must include a debrief at a later stage, such as by email. Otherwise, you are required to debrief your participants at the end of the study. For online studies, you can include this as part of the questionnaire.

Additionally, it is worth remembering that students are given the opportunity to participate in research partly because it benefits their understanding of psychology as a subject. They should be given opportunities to find out the purpose of the research, to learn how the methodology works, and to ask questions. For this reason, you may choose to provide additional information on top of the standard debriefing, so that they can understand how their data has contributed to your work.

Exclusion criteria

In some instances, it will be appropriate to exclude anyone with a previous mental health diagnosis or anyone undergoing treatment etc, so you should make this clear in both the recruitment materials and the PIS and justify the exclusion criteria in your ethics application. It is important however to recognise that 1 in 4 adults experience mental illness (NHS,, so you will not necessarily wish to exclude everyone who has experienced mental health problems. Blanket exclusions will also limit options for some of our students to earn Sona credits. Putting in place the precautions outlined above will help to mitigate any risk in this regard; as will thinking carefully about which specific conditions might need to be excluded, while providing enough information for others to decide for themselves whether or not to participate.


In the past we have had ongoing problems with students scheduling participation, but not turning up. This is still an issue, but helpfully Sona allows researchers to keep track of these "no-shows", and can automatically penalise repeat offenders. It also makes it easier for both researchers and participants to cancel attendance in the event of a genuine problem.

A participant who fails to attend can be marked as a no-show on Sona (there is detailed information on the Sona guide page). If they simply haven't turned up, you should mark them as an unexcused no-show.

  • After the first no-show, they will be sent a stern email, and they will lose one credit from their total.
  • On the second no-show, they will lose one more credit, and their Sona account will be locked. They will receive a form which they must print, fill in, have signed by their academic advisor, and return to Martha in the technicians' office. Their account will then be unlocked.
  • Every subsequent no-show is treated like the second.

You are entitled to award no-shows to participants whose data is not useable if you have reason to believe they didn't participate properly (for example, if every answer on a questionnaire is "neither agree nor disagree", or if they have answered attention checks incorrectly). You can use your discretion here, and you may choose to contact the participant and explain why they have been given a no-show.

You cannot award no-shows for participants who withdraw their data. In this case you can award them zero credits (or partial credit), but they cannot be penalised for withdrawing from the study.

At the same time, it is your responsibility to always keep appointments you have made with participants. Again, Sona allows you to cancel in advance if necessary.

Other ways to recruit participants

You may wish to pay your participants instead of awarding credits (for example, outside of term time). Paid participants are recruited using Sona in the same way as credited participants. There is more information about how this works on the Sona page. 

Alternatively, you may wish to recruit completely outside of the University - particularly if you need a more varied subject pool or larger sample size. For this, you may wish to use a site such as Prolific, which allows you to advertise your online study across the world and pay your participants small amounts of money electronically.

Your supervisees can't use Sona unless their project is a direct part of yours. They are entitled to advertise using Canvas, though study swaps, and by putting up fliers etc.