Research is increasingly recognised as a key component of medical curricula, offering a range of benefits including development of skills in evidence-based medicine. The literature indicates that experienced academic supervision or mentoring is important in any research activity and positively influences research output. The aim of this project was to investigate the human research ethics experiences and knowledge of three groups: medical students, and university academic staff and clinicians eligible to supervise medical student research projects; at two Australian universities. Training in research ethics was low amongst academic staff and clinicians eligible to supervise medical student research. Only two-thirds of academic staff (67.9 %) and students (65.7 %) and less than half of clinicians surveyed (47.1 %; p = 0.014) indicated that specific patient consent was required for a doctor to include patient medical records within a research publication. There was limited awareness of requirements for participant information and consent forms amongst all groups. In the case of clinical trials, fewer clinicians (88.4 %) and students (83.3 %) than academics (100 %) indicated there was a requirement to obtain consent (p = 0.009). Awareness of the ethics committee focus on respect was low across all groups. This project has identified significant gaps in human research ethics understanding among medical students, and university academic staff and clinicians. The incorporation of research within medical curricula provides the impetus for medical schools and their institutions to ensure that academic staff and clinicians who are eligible and qualified to supervise students' research projects are appropriately trained in human research ethics.