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Responsible conduct of research and scholarship: implications for social work research.

As the number of students and faculty in schools of social work conducting research continues to increase, especially research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), they have also had to pay greater attention to the subject of responsible conduct of research and scholarship (RCRS). NIH and NSF mandate that undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students, and postdoctoral fellows, receive training on RCRS. In this editorial, we provide a brief summary of the history and nature of RCRS followed by examples of two differing RCRS training programs including a discussion of corresponding benefits and challenges. We conclude with recommendations for social work research and questions social work educators and researchers need to consider concerning RCRS education.

RCRS refers to "the practice of scientific and scholarly investigation with integrity. It involves the awareness and application of established professional norms and ethical principles in the performance of all activities related to scientific research and to scholarship" (see Attention to the subject of research integrity became a public issue in the United States in 1981, when the first congressional hearing was held on the subject propelled by a series of allegations of misconduct (see In fact, all aspects of research misconduct concerning NIH-funded research fall under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity (see As a result of this increased attention to research integrity, legislation has been passed to improve the procedures by which applicants, institutions, and federal agencies prevent and address research misconduct.

One of the significant changes occurring since 1989 when NIH submitted the first notice of policy related to instruction on research integrity (see 1989_12_22_Vol_18_No_45.pdf) is that all trainees, fellows, participants, and scholars receiving any NIH support for training receive instruction in RCRS. Specifically, as stated in NIH's NOT-OD-10-019:
   NIH requires that all trainees, fellows, participants,
   and scholars receiving support through
   any NIH training, career development award
   (individual or institutional), research education
   grant, and dissertation research grant must
   receive instruction in responsible conduct of
   research. This policy will take effect with all
   new and renewal applications submitted on or
   after January 25, 2010, and for all continuation
   (Type 5) applications with deadlines on
   or after January 1, 2011. This Notice applies
   to the following programs: D43, D71, F05,
   F30, F31, F32, F33, F34, F37, F38, K01,
   K02, K05, K07, K08, KU12, K18, K22, K23,
   K24, K25, K26, K30, K99/R00, KL1 KL2,
   R25, R36, T15, T32, T34, T35, T36, T37,
   T90/R90, TL1, TU2, and U2R. This policy
   also applies to any other NIH-funded programs
   supporting research training, career development,
   or research education that require
   instruction in responsible conduct of research
   as stated in the relevant funding opportunity
   announcements (see

Core RCRS topics include the following:

* Data Acquisition, Management, Sharing, and Ownership

* Conflict of Interest and Commitment

* Protection of Human Beings Subjects

* Research Misconduct, including Data Fabrication and Falsification

* Personal, Professional, and Financial Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

* Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship

* Supervisory and Mentoring Relationships and Responsibilities

* Responsibilities of Collaborative Research

* Welfare of Laboratory Animals When Research Involves Human Participants and Animal Subjects

It is important to comment here that the preceding outline of topics clearly indicates that RCRS training encompasses a much broader and richer set of topics on RCRS than the traditional training involving human subjects protection issues that researchers are quite familiar with. Another interesting point emphasized by NIH's notice (NOT-OD-10-019) is the need for RCRS instruction to consist of eight hours of face-to-face interactions with a faculty member or investigator. This is a different requirement from the more traditional online training addressing human subjects protection that most institutions have developed to certify individuals conducting research. The present requirement of eight hours of face-to-face content on RCRS may stem from the notion that completing an online requirement does not allow for in-depth discussion of RCRS topics and can result in individuals completing the certification in an automatic manner with limited self-reflection; that is, simply being concerned with "passing" the tests we all have to take after reading the various online modules to become certified.

In some institutions, such as at the University of Michigan, this NIH mandate to provide training on RCRS to NIH- and NSF-funded trainees has been expanded to include any student (that is, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral) and postdoctoral fellow (postdocs) working on an NIH- or NSF-funded project. That is, the mandate applies to all students and postdocs, regardless of the type of roles (trainee or research staff) the individual has on an NIH and NSF grant. This policy is consistent with the NSF requirement that all students and postdocs receive training on RCRS independent of whether they are trainees or stale
   The Director shall require that each institution
   that applies for financial assistance from the
   Foundation for science and engineering research
   or education describe in its grant proposal
   a plan to provide appropriate training
   and oversight in the responsible and ethical
   conduct of research to undergraduate students,
   graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers
   participating in the proposed research project.
   (see www.nsf.govibfa/dias/policy/rcr.jsp)

When the mandate was "limited" to trainees, small courses or workshops would suffice to educate all trainees. Expanding the mandate to all students and postdocs working on an NIH or NSF grant, a good decision in our opinion, has created a new challenge for schools and departments. The challenge has not only involved making sure everyone involved in an NIH or NSF grant is trained, but also been a challenge to develop the necessary recording and reporting procedures to keep track of all students and postdocs who have completed and not yet completed the training. Being an unfunded mandate, different training programs have been created depending on the size of the school or department, the number of NIH and NSF grants awarded, and the purpose of the training program (for example, to train only those funded by NIH or NSF, to train all students engaged in research independent of funding source, to train all students and postdocs regardless of whether they conduct research). Below we discuss two such formats.

At the University of Michigan School of Social Work, the eight hours of RCRS training is mandatory for students engaged in NIH- or NSF-funded research, though all students and research staff (nonstudents) conducting research are welcome to participate. The RCRS training consists of two components and is offered by the School of Social Work Research Office. First, students and postdoc fellows participate in one of several RCRS workshops offered throughout the year. Each workshop is four hours long. This is the didactic component of the training in which the RCRS topics listed earlier are discussed with groups of five to 10 participants, the number of students and postdocs that usually sign up for these workshops. An important aspect of this teaching format with small groups is the opportunity for rich discussions about the various subjects. Students and postdocs are generally well trained in the subjects concerning human subjects protection and research misconduct (including data fabrication and falsification), though the workshops allow for discussions of greater depth that address specific questions they may have. Participants tend to be less knowledgeable about data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership; conflict of interest and commitment; personal, professional, and financial conflicts of interest and commitment; publication practices and responsible authorship; supervisory and mentoring relationships and responsibilities; and responsibilities of collaborative research. The workshops provide a venue for students to raise questions or concerns they may have concerning these topics.

The seminar format allows for in-depth discussions and contributes considerably to one's learning about these topics. Thus far, none of the participants has been involved in animal research, so this topic is not discussed in detail. The second training component follows completion of the workshop and consists of each student and postdoc spending four additional hours working individually with a faculty mentor or principal investigator (PI) of his or her respective NIH or NSF project. These additional hours may be completed in two months, with 30 minutes of individualized work over two months, or in one month at one hour per week. This individualized experience allows for tailored learning in that the student or postdoc gets to discuss the RCRS topics most salient to his or her mentor and to himself or herself.

Despite these benefits, this teaching format has several challenges. One of them is figuring out what to do with the few students who keep delaying signing up for the workshop despite the repeated announcements of the workshops' availability throughout the year. Another challenge is that although over 90% of participants have completed the four hours of tailored, individualized, training within two months of workshop participation, some have required considerable follow-up to ensure they complete the additional four hours of individualized training. This aspect places additional burden on the training program and tends to generate a more adversarial relationship with the participant. Another con is the potential for faculty participation to be less than desirable. What if the PI with whom the student or postdoc is to work does not make the time to provide the individualized training? This has not happened yet, but it certainly could happen. If this were the case, with the help of the research office, the student would have to find another individual to work with. This is certainly possible, but it would delay the time it would take the student or postdoc to complete the training. This format would not allow for the accommodation of every student conducting research in a school of social work, let alone an entire student body, if a decision were made to provide this type of training to all. Finally, it has been necessary to create an infrastructure to facilitate informing students and postdocs of the RCRS training program, developing an enrollment system, and tracking completion. This was not a problem to develop, but it did require resources. Schools with less infrastructure would have a more difficult time implementing this type of process.

Another format used to provide RCRS training is the use of a one-credit class (15 contact hours). Schools and departments with large numbers of students involved in NIH- or NSF-funded research, to avoid having to "go after" these students, have developed the one-credit course with various sections to accommodate large student bodies. A benefit of this format is that large numbers of students can take the required class and 5 contact hours provide considerable time to cover the RCRS topics, more so than the workshop format. These courses use a combination of presentations by the course instructor, invited faculty, and other guest speakers, in addition to the inclusion of Webinars. The course format makes it easier to be responsive to NIH's and NSF's mandates that the institution provide evidence that students and postdocs funded by NIH or NSF participated and completed the RCRS training.

Less than ideal is that these courses have larger numbers of students, which can potentially alienate students unless the instructor is creative with use of small groups. However, even in these cases, these courses can be less personable than a seminar format with smaller numbers of students. Some of the challenges posed by these courses include an additional expense to the school or department, particularly if no faculty want to teach these types of courses or can teach more than one section per semester. In these cases, the school or department may hire a nontenured faculty to teach and oversee these courses. This is not only more expensive for the school or department, it also means that such an important course may not be taught by the most experienced or well-funded investigators, the same argument that is applied to the hiring of adjunct MSWs to teach courses in our schools. It is already difficult to fit more content into a curriculum. It is certainly the case in our school of social work, but we are convinced this is a challenge across all schools and programs. Adding a mandatory course, even if "only" a one-credit course, implies something else needs to give way, not an easy task. Finally, the possibility of individualizing what is learned in the course format is less than what can be accomplished with the workshop-tailored combination. If the course does not provide students with homework or activities to do with their PIs, students will miss the opportunity to "apply" what was learned in the classroom.

We are certain there are other formats by which the RCRS training can be provided to students and postdocs that we have not discussed in this Editorial. The two formats discussed herein provide a contrast between two very different institutional approaches that we hope can inform discussions that schools of social work faculty may be engaged in concerning the provision of RCRS training.

Before concluding, we raise the following questions--Should only NIH- and NSF-funded students and postdocs receive training on RCRS? What about those not funded by these agencies? What about individuals funded by state and local governments, foundations, or those conducting research without funding? Should they also be required to complete RCRS training? What about teaching the content to all students, regardless of whether they conduct research or not? Is it feasible? Finally, should training on RCRS be mandated for research staff, those who are not students or postdocs, and, more importantly, for faculty? Students and postdocs learn about research, including research ethics and integrity, primarily from faculty. Faculty, being human, just like students and postdocs, may also purposely or inadvertently engage in behaviors that violate RCRS principles. In addition, our understanding of RCRS principles is continuously growing and evolving, some type of ongoing training every three or four years may serve as an important reminder to faculty of "best practices" in RCRS. Now, would faculty show up to these trainings?

doi: 10.1093/swr/svs045

Jorge Delva, PhD, is professor of social work and associate dean, School of Social Work, University of Michigan, 1080 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48105; e-mail: Matthew O. Howard, PhD, is Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; e-mail:

Advance Access Publication October 4, 2012
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Author:Delva, Jorge; Howard, Matthew O.
Publication:Social Work Research
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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