Research Integrity and Ethics

Continued focus on research integrity and ethics is a crucial part of career development for scientists at all levels. We regularly discuss these issues at lab meetings. You may also be required or encouraged to participate in courses or workshops on research integrity and ethics.

While gross misconduct is relatively rare, you will almost certainly experience ethical issues in your academic career. Most situations arise from poor or insufficient communication rather than malice. You can therefore develop communication skills to minimize such occurrences.

Two points:
– Never make assumptions.
– Even if you think you are not in doubt, ask your PI.

More specifically:
– Ask your PI about general Lab Policies. The specifics will be situation-dependent, but find out what her general procedures are re: authorship, data collection, lab notebooks, collaborations, vacations, etc. Ours are here.

– Always clarify your role in a project with your PI and collaborators. Examples: What specifically is expected of you? What are your responsibilities? Are you expected to do data collection, analysis, writing? What can you expect from others who are involved in the project? What kind of notes or reports are you expected to keep and how? Will you get course credit? Will you be funded for doing the work? Who will pay for research expenses, conference travel, or publication costs? Will you be an author on the paper? If so, who else is on it and what is the expected order of authorship?

– What you consider to be “yours” does not actually belong to you. Any work that was done in relation to this lab is governed by the regulations of the lab, the university and the funding bodies (e.g., the federal government). You must talk to your PI about anything involving documents, ideas, data, materials, or equipment from the lab. You may not take, share, communicate, email, talk about, copy or remove items, data, materials or documents from the lab under any circumstance unless instructed to do so by the PI.

– Discussing the specifics at the start of a project is great. But communication also needs to be maintained as data comes in, people come and go, research interests change… You must discuss your ideas, research progress, authorship plans regularly with your PI and collaborators in an honest and clear fashion.

– Many people feel awkward or anxious about having direct conversations about these issues and may tend to avoid them. It is also possible that factors such as national origin, culture, gender, and personality affects how people feel about such conversations. You have to do your best to overcome any aversion you may have to open and direct communication, and to some degree, assertiveness. It is well worth it to step out of your comfort zone a little in order to avoid problems down the line. You must work on being a clear and open communicator, while remaining polite and calm.

– Choose a communication style that best suits your personality. If you express yourself better in person, schedule a meeting. If you are more comfortable communicating in writing, use e-mail. It is generally a good idea to keep written record. Consider making notes of what was discussed and/or decided, adding them to your lab notebook, and e-mail or otherwise share with everyone involved.

– Some people you work with may have poor “source memory” – i.e., they’ll remember what was discussed, but may not remember from where or whom the idea came. If you feel you are not getting credit for your ideas or your work, you should gently but assertively discuss this with your PI.

– Sometimes junior scientists over-focus on ideas and become possessive. Sometimes it may seem to you that a project or idea is “yours” but never make such an assumption. Always have explicit, clear conversations. Your PI has a much different vantage point, keeping up with what is in each grant, which projects are parts of whose dissertation, how to fairly distribute work among team members, how to help each lab member develop their niche… It’s important that you keep your PI informed of what you are working on.

See also: Graduate School, Undergraduate Research, Lab Policies, Lab Notebooks, Joining the Lab, Human Subjects

Local Links:
UCSD Integrity of Research Policy
UCSD Research Ethics
UCSD Ethics Homepage
Ethics Center
San Diego Research Ethics Consortium (SDREC)
UCSD Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention and Policy
Courses on Research Ethics
Policy on Conflict of Interest
Faculty Code of Conduct (pdf)
Ombuds Office
UC System-wide Policies

Other Resources:
Summary of Research on Bias
Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research(ORI)
On Being a Scientist
Research Policies (HHMI)
Training in Responsible Conduct (NIH)
Responsible Conduct (Soceity for Neuroscience)
Responsible Conduct (Research Education Consortium)
Council of Science Editors Task Force on Authorship
Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals (pdf)

Article on Fabrication and Falsifying (Plos ONE)
On Ghostwriting (Inside Higher Ed)
Does Gender Matter?