Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Responsible Conduct of Research: Not Just for Researchers

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Responsible Conduct of Research: Not Just for Researchers

Article excerpt


Dr. John Galland, former Director of Education and Integrity for the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), contemplated the meaning of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) on his research integrity blog. He stated that "RCR is about an individual making choices in a research program that are ethical and legal, but also that are in-line with the individual's own conscience, the value system upon which the research is based, and generally acceptable research practices of the scientific discipline within which the individual belongs" (Galland, 2009).

In this author's experience directing RCR training courses for graduate students, MD-PhD candidates and postdoctoral trainees for three institutions over the last 13 years, it has become evident that RCR is not just for or about researchers. As Galland (2009) suggests, it is about "... individuals making choices..." Therefore it is equally important for research administrators to be able to recognize and understand the underlying concepts of RCR. Why do they need to care? In any profession, daily tasks can become routine and are often performed automatically, absent of conscious thought. Is one merely following steps blindly that have been trodden upon by many that came before or is there a bigger picture - a wider realm to consider? How many times have research administrators been accused of being "bureaucrats" lacking proper appreciation for the science that is at stake? This paper attempts to address the divide that happens when scientists separate themselves from staff because of differences in training and academic achievement. This "classism" can create stressful relations that can hinder the proper administration of research. Scientists and administrators while bound together to work towards securing the necessary funding sometimes find themselves at odds. Deadlines need to be met and compliance points covered that scientists may feel interfere with the creative process. They can be viewed as "unappreciative" of the administrators work process and vice versa. Without a sincere attempt to understand the opposing point of view, researchers and administrators cannot begin to work collaboratively to meet the expected deadlines and compliance points that are essential to a healthy, flourishing research enterprise and at the same time be respectful and protective of the integrity of that enterprise.

Educators or Enforcers ?

Research administrators often play multiple roles when it comes to research ethics. They may have some role or responsibility for developing research integrity and compliance policies and procedures, including educating researchers. Yet, they also have responsibility for implementing and policing research integrity. Thus, they find themselves straddling a rather cumbersome fence. On one side they are asked to be educators. Quite often they have a hand in developing or implementing RCR courses or curriculum for students, postdoctoral trainees, and faculty. They may even play a part in delivering lectures or running small group sessions on one or more of the RCR core topics recommended by ORI. These topics have expanded in the US over the years in response to worldwide incidents and changes in political influence, and are considered to be as outlined in Table 1.

However, on the opposite side, these same research administrators are often asked to "police" the science by ensuring compliance with the numerous rules and regulations that are deeply embedded in the administration of research. It is a very fine line one treads between being a positive enthusiastic teacher and a heavy-handed regulator.

Culture of Responsibility

Learning to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do is the paradigm for RCR success. However, as a former colleague of the author is fond of saying, the consequence for not doing the right thing, is that we "all" might go to jail. …

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