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March 2, 2009
Volume 87, Number 09

Instilling Scholarly Integrity

Project will develop models for integrating responsible conduct of research into graduate education

Celia Arnaud

THE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED Project for Scholarly Integrity is investing in programs to develop models for an institution-wide approach to integrating education about the responsible conduct of research (RCR) into graduate programs.

Mentor The Project for Scholarly Integrity encourages teaching students responsible research conduct.

Researchers at all levels, from new graduate students to tenured professors, face pressures that may tempt them to cut corners in research. High-profile cases in recent years, such as Korean stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang, have called attention to irresponsible research practices. One way to avoid such problems is to create a research climate that values ethical behavior and professional conduct from the earliest stages of a scientist’s career.

But RCR is not restricted to ethics. The concept encompasses the entire range of research activities from data acquisition and management to publication.

In response to mandates from funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, universities already have started implementing some RCR materials into their curricula. But those attempts have tended to be department by department and are designed with compliance in mind.

Funded Institutions

The Project for Scholarly Integrity is funding seven universities through five grants:

Columbia University

Emory University

University of Alabama, Birmingham

University of Arizona

A three-university consortium:

Michigan State University

Pennsylvania State University

University of Wisconsin, Madison

13 other institutions are participating as affiliates:

Duke University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Howard University

Marquette University

Northern Arizona University

Princeton University

Purdue University

Simmons College

University of California, San Diego

University of New Mexico

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

University of West Florida

Wake Forest University

Components Of Responsible Research Conduct

As defined by the Office of Research Integrity, responsible research conduct comprises nine components:

• Data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership

• Conflict of interest and commitment

• Human subjects

• Animal welfare

• Research misconduct

• Publication practices and responsible authorship

• Mentor/trainee responsibilities

• Peer review

• Collaborative science

Schools now want to move beyond minimum requirements for compliance and create an institution-wide culture of scholarly integrity, and the Project for Scholarly Integrity is the first step on the path to developing institution-wide programs.

The project is being funded by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at the Department of Health & Human Services, which bears responsibility for RCR education at institutes funded by the U.S. Public Health Service. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), an organization of university deans, is running the project under contract with ORI.

“Our interest in working with the Council of Graduate Schools is to have the research community take ownership and leadership of RCR training and education and to implement it in graduate schools,” says Loc Nguyen-Khoa, ORI program officer for the Project for Scholarly Integrity.

The project leaders want universities “to think comprehensively about this issue and not just develop a workshop here or an online module there that would take care of compliance requirements” says CGS Director of Best Practices Daniel D. Denecke.

IN JANUARY, CGS announced the first five $50,000 grants to universities. Thirteen other institutions will participate as affiliates.

The participants will develop models for integrating RCR programs into graduate education. Using templates provided by project staff, each institution will assess its current activities and climate for scholarly integrity. The project also encourages universities to develop tools to assess how well students learn materials related to RCR.

“Scholarly integrity is an important consideration for the quality of research that we produce,” says Karen L. Klomparens, associate provost and dean of the graduate school at Michigan State University, which is participating in the project in partnership with Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The key piece the consortium will contribute to the project is a survey to evaluate the RCR climate at universities. The survey will be made publicly available through the project’s website.

One challenge in RCR education that the project hopes to address is providing students with the ethical reasoning skills to deal with never-before-encountered situations. “We have responsibilities to educate our doctoral students about the complexities in their research environment,” says Lisa A. Tedesco, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for academic affairs at Emory University, another institution participating in the project.

“If there’s anything I’d like to make sure we include in the program, it’s pedagogy for reflection and the approaches to asking difficult questions, getting people comfortable with those really dreaded conversations,” Tedesco says. Such training could include dealing in nonaccusatory ways with concerns about data analysis and interpretation.

The Project for Scholarly Integrity will wrap up in December 2010 with a report detailing the various models adopted by the participants.

“In the long term, we’d like to expand the pool” of available models, Denecke says. “It would be great to see every institution take a comprehensive approach that brings together the institution’s leaders with researchers to reach all students and all disciplines.”

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