Responsible conduct of research
VCU is committed to fostering an environment of uncompromising integrity and ethical conduct. The responsible conduct of research at VCU is built upon the instructional components of the NIH. Relevant policies, resources, and contacts can be found at the links below.
This website draws from 1) federal and state laws that govern responsible conduct such as those that relate to the protection of research subjects or the use of hazardous materials, 2) regulations or policies, typically published by funding agencies, that apply to such areas as data sharing and objectivity in research, and 3) guidance documents, policies, and position papers that are produced and promoted by professional societies, organizations, and publishers of scholarly journals that can be used to inform researchers of established or emerging best practices.
The publication of results is an essential component of the research process. It disseminates new knowledge, an expectation that is inherent to sponsored research. It creates a basis of assigning credit to the authors, thus providing support for seeking professional advancement or completing training requirements. It establishes scientific priority with implications for credit for discovery or for intellectual property protection. Finally, publication allows others to assess, correct, or build on the authors’ results, which is crucial to scientific progress.
Authorship requirements frequently are defined by publishers, scientific societies, and organizations with a vested interest in scientific publication. In the biomedical and life sciences, the most comprehensive description of publication requirements has been promulgated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The credibility of these requirements is strengthened by their frequent updating and by the fact that several hundred journals either use them in whole or in part. Many publication practices embraced by the ICMJE guidelines may be found in the instructions to authors of diverse scholarly journals and in the guidelines published by professional societies ranging from the American Sociological Association, to the Society for Neurosciences, to the American Society for Civil Engineering. In keeping with the guidance offered by all of the above as well as related sources, VCU offers the following consensus guidance for authorship:
- Authorship is a privilege that is based upon fulfillment of four separate conditions:
- Making a significant contribution to the conceptualization, design, execution, or analysis and interpretation of the research
- Contributing to the writing of the paper or to critically revising it for intellectual content
- Approving the submitted version of the manuscript
- Agreeing to be accountable for all aspects of the work and ensuring that questions about accuracy or integrity are appropriately addressed
- All authors must be able to take public responsibility for their contribution to the work.
- Deliberate omission of a qualified author (ghost authorship) or inclusion of a person as an author who does not qualify for authorship (guest authorship) is inappropriate.
- In the absence of 1-3 above, activities that constitute insufficient grounds for authorship include: acquisition and provision of funding, provision of space or equipment, involvement in patient care or providing patient samples, routine technical work, copy editing, general supervision of the research group, and personnel who support the research enterprise.
- Where permissible, use of the contributorship model is recommended wherein the contributions of each of the paper’s co-authors are briefly listed in a footnote or in the acknowledgements section of the paper.
- Similarly, use of the guarantor model is encouraged wherein at least one author takes full responsibility for the content of the paper.
- Authors are urged to publish their original research results in peer-reviewed literature.
- Duplicate publication is inappropriate as is the publication of unduly fragmented research reports.
- Full disclosure of financial conflicts of interest must be made to editors and, as appropriate, included in the published paper.
- Clinical trials must be registered at ClinicalTrials.gov prior to enrolling any patients in the research. Failure to comply with this will jeopardize being able to publish results of the work in a large number of scientific journals.
- Authors who publish the results of research supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are required to make such publications available on the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central in keeping with NIH policy.
VCU encourages its researchers to engage in scientific peer review. Peer review is essential to the conduct of science. Peer review includes the critique of submitted manuscripts for publication as well as the critique of grant proposals being considered for funding. In both cases, individuals may participate in this process as part of a formal structure (editorial board or proposal review panel) or as an ad-hoc referee. In either case the responsibilities of peer reviews are the same. Reviewers must be expertly qualified in the subject matter of the manuscript or proposal. In so doing, individuals must avoid any perceived conflict of interest that might result from financial considerations, collaboration, or a close relationship with the authors or proposal investigator. Disclosure of conflicts is the responsibility of the peer reviewer who must recuse themselves from the review. The peer review process must be focused on the available submitted information and/or on material in the public domain. Information that is not publicly available should not be used to influence the peer review process. Finally, material under peer review is privileged information. It may not be shared, copied, distributed, or retained by the peer reviewer without appropriate permission from those managing the peer review process.
- ICMJE Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors website
- ICJME Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals website
- National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central
- Office of Research Integrity Avoiding Plagiarism, Self-plagiarism, and Other Questionable Writing Practices: A Guide to Ethical Writing website
Authorship disputes are ultimately resolved by the relevant department chair (or the individual in the next higher level of supervision, as appropriate). To request a confidential conversation regarding authorship issues, visit the VCU Research Ethics Consultation page.
A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which financial or non-financial interests of the investigator or the investigator’s immediate family compromise, or may appear to compromise, the investigator’s professional judgment in exercising an institutional duty or responsibility, including the design, conduct, or reporting of research. Conflicts of interest exist in many forms and are inherent to the nature of the research enterprise. Often financial conflicts of interests will simply create the appearance of compromising an investigator's professional judgment in conducting or reporting research. Investigators and participants in the research enterprise must be able to recognize related interests and report them as required.
Researchers at VCU are expected to avoid conflicts of interests that appear to directly and significantly 1) compromise objectivity in carrying out university research responsibilities; 2) affect the university's interests; or 3) otherwise compromise the performance of university responsibilities unless such conflicts are managed, reduced, or eliminated. University members engaged in research are required to be aware of, understand, and comply with applicable university policies. Principal investigators are responsible for ensuring that all members of their research team are made aware of these requirements.
Further information and guidance
See the "Contacts" section of the website indicated above.
At the outset of any research project, all study personnel are expected to discuss and agree upon data management, access, and retention procedures including procedures for having personnel join or leave the project. Privacy of collected data and rights to intellectual property must be protected. Student rights to data are expected to be clearly specified. All documentation necessary to reconstruct research projects is expected to be available and data is to be recorded in a timely and consistent manner.
Sharing of published data with other researchers upon request is expected of authors. Authors should comply with requests for published data. Such requests should be honored in a timely fashion, at reasonable cost to the researcher making the request, and for non-commercial purposes. Requests connected to commercial purposes (e.g. from a corporate entity) can be honored under the auspices of a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) or a Data Use Agreement (DUA) in order to protect the intellectual property rights of the principal investigator and the institution.
Principal investigators, departments, and schools within VCU are encouraged to develop guidance documents on proper maintenance of research notebooks. Research record keeping varies depending on the discipline, but VCU holds the following principles as essential to the responsible acquisition and maintenance of research data:
- The principal investigator is responsible for defining the record keeping requirements of their group. This includes the type of data book to be used and requirements and details of record keeping, both in data books and electronically, if appropriate. These requirements should be in keeping with best practices of the researcher’s discipline.
- Each member of the research team (e.g. faculty, trainee, or technician) should maintain a data book compliant with these standards and the data book must be freely available to the principal investigator for purposes of review, analysis, and use of data to prepare reports of any type.
- The decision to publish data is the responsibility of the principal investigator.
- Data books, other research data, and all supporting materials derived from the research belong to VCU. The principal investigator serves as the steward for the university in the process. Should the principal investigator leave the institution, data must be transferred according to applicable university policies.
Research data should be kept for as long as required 1) by federal, state, and local requirements and 2) to protect any patents or other intellectual property resulting from the work.
VCU is an Open Science Framework (OSF) member institution. OSF is a free, open source web application built to help researchers manage their workflows, simplify project management and collaboration, and improve research transparency and reproducibility. For more information on OSF, see the VCU Libraries Research Guides link below.
Further information and guidance
- VCU policy: Research Data Ownership, Retention, Access, and Security
- VCU policy: Records Management
- VCU policy: Intellectual Property
- Data science at VCU
- VCU material transfer agreement (MTA)
- VCU data use agreement (DUA)
- VCU Libraries research data management
- VCU Libraries research guides - OSF
See the applicable policy or website above for specific contact information.
VCU offers multiple educational opportunities that serve to promote the responsible conduct of research (RCR) among its university members. A listing of the courses offered by VCU can be accessed below. These courses cover the core topics areas in RCR that are included on this website.
Instruction in the responsible conduct of research is required of certain university members. Included in this category are pre- and postdoctoral trainees support by National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants (T32 and R25 awards), those supported by NIH Fellowship Awards (F31 or F32 awards), and any university members supported by certain types of NIH career grants (K awards). The National Science Foundation (NSF) mandates that undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in NSF-funded research receive appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research. Some departments and interdisciplinary programs at VCU also have an RCR educational requirement for their graduate trainees.
The Division of Research Compliance will monitor compliance with the NSF requirements by tracking RCR training completion. The Office of Research Administration and Compliance will not track NIH RCR education. While NIH RCR education may consist of classes listed in the VCU RCR courses, it should be administered at the program level.
It is the responsibility of VCU principal investigators and K-award mentors to be aware of educational requirements for trainees and awardees and to ensure that such requirements are successfully met in a timely fashion. Regardless of formal requirements, VCU principal investigators and academic leaders should promote the responsible conduct of research by urging general participation in educational offerings and other appropriate instructional modalities.
In addition to RCR programs, there are a variety of topical educational opportunities in areas related to research integrity including research ethics, subjects protection, data management, environmental health and safety, and fiscal responsibility. Such seminars and workshops are listed on the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation events calendar.
Further information and guidance
- VCU policy: Compliance with Federal Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training Requirements
- VCU RCR course matrix
- Template RCR training language for proposals
- Scientific Integrity (4th Edition; 2014) by Francis L. Macrina (requires VCU eID)
- Website Companion for Scientific Integrity (4th Edition; 2014) by Francis L. Macrina
For undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral scholars with questions regarding meeting NSF RCR training requirements, contact the Office of Research Administration and Compliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For faculty with questions about adding a course to the VCU RCR course matrix, contact Research Integrity and Ethics at ORIE@vcu.edu.
The VCU Office of Safety and Risk Management is charged with development and compliance oversight of workplace standards for environmental health and safety and provides relevant educational programs and materials.
The Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) unit within Safety and Risk Management specifically assists researchers and manages the aspects of university research that are essential for continued compliance with requirements from governmental regulators, grantors, and credentialing agencies. In the area of laboratory safety, requirements exist for an annual laboratory safety assessment, fume hood air flow verification, safety training (including the shipment of dangerous goods), EHS also performs research risk assessments and consultations for the VCU and VCU Health System research enterprises. Associated committees include the Laboratory Safety Committee (LSC), Export Control Committee, Radiation Safety Committee (RSC), the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), and the Institutional Review Entity for Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC).
EHS utilizes BioRAFT, the central hub for laboratory safety and compliance information at VCU. Key functions of the system include record maintenance, registry of hazards in labs, documentation of lab safety assessments and follow up, delivery and tracking of safety training, management of the IBC process, and equipment inventory.
University members are required to be in compliance with all necessary health and safety requirements connected to their research programs. Further, they must complete training in areas relevant to their research. Principal investigators are responsible for ensuring that all members of their groups (trainees, staff, visiting scientists, etc.) are made aware of research-related health and safety requirements and that their research group members complete necessary training in health and safety-related topics.
Further information and guidance
- VCU Safety and Risk Management
- VCU Safety and Risk Management BioRAFT
- VCU Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI) committees:
- Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)
- Laboratory Safety Committee (LSC)
- Radiation Safety Committee (RSC)
- VCU OVPRI Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)
The mentor-protégé relationship is essential to the training and professional socialization of scholars and researchers. This relationship is complex and involves more than just supervision of the novice by an experienced investigator. Rather, it is a process characterized by personalized teaching, training, and interactive evaluation. Over time, successful mentoring yields a protégé who becomes increasingly skilled and independent in the conduct of research. In the academic setting, protégés may be trainees like graduate students or postdoctoral scholars, or they may be faculty investigators who are beginning or restarting their research careers.
VCU has developed resources that describe the responsibilities and duties of both mentors and protégés. Trainees and faculty should use these resources as guidelines. These resources review the foundational basis of the mentor-protégé relationship, broadly covering the primary responsibilities of orientation, education, and evaluation. These resources articulate the core values and standards that undergird mentoring in research and scholarly training at VCU.
There are a number of resources created by various organizations and societies that may also prove useful to mentors and protégés. These may be used on an individual, department, or school basis to augment VCU guidance materials. Most notable in this regard are two compacts available from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Both of these compacts offer a broad set of guidelines for promoting appropriate mentoring relationships at both the graduate and postdoctoral trainee level. Although they were developed specifically for use by mentors and trainees in the medical and biomedical sciences, they offer guidance that is broadly applicable across many disciplines in the sciences and engineering.
Further information and guidance
- VCU Graduate School mentorship program
- VCU Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation postdoctoral information
- AAMC Compact Between Biomedical Graduate Students and their Research Advisors
- AAMC Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and their Mentors
Contact your school for their graduate handbook.
Collaboration has long been an important driving force in research. The growth of interdisciplinary approaches and powerful specialized technologies has dramatically elevated the need and importance of collaborative research. Collaborations often allow researchers to ask and answer novel questions about complex problems that are not possible to address by other means. However, the increase of interdisciplinary collaborative research has created some challenges. Recognizing, understanding, and dealing with such challenges and related issues will help ensure responsible, effective, and productive research collaborations. Guidance for university members considering or engaged in research collaboration includes the following:
- Collaborations must involve strong resolve and commitment on the part of all participating researchers. They should be carefully considered and not entered into lightly.
- Defining the means and ground rules for communication is essential. Effective communication among participating researchers must prevail throughout the collaborative relationship.
- Roles and responsibilities of collaborators should be defined and their expected contributions anticipated at the beginning of the relationship. Investigators should acknowledge that research progress may require modification of such plans and this should be addressed in a timely manner.
- Collaborators should develop a timeline for the work, which includes the terms of when the collaboration will end.
- Ground rules dealing with the operation of the collaboration should be openly discussed and agreed upon at the outset. These include: authorship and publication issues, intellectual property ownership and protection, data sharing, and regulatory compliance.
Further information and guidance
- Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation research development collaborator tools
- VCU and VCU Health System community-engaged partnership database
- Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide, 2nd ed., updated 2018
- Team Science Toolkit - an interactive toolkit developed by the National Cancer Institute
For assistance identifying experts, collaborators, and partners for proposals you plan to submit, contact the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Melissa Throckmorton, Director of Research Development and Strategic Projects, at email@example.com or the research development personnel in your unit.
Research misconduct is the fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research or in reporting research results. It is prohibited.
- Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
- Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes or
changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately
represented in the research record.
- Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
Research misconduct does not include honest error, differences of opinion, authorship or collaboration disputes, or allegations of self-plagiarism.
Principal investigators bear responsibility for the integrity of research performed under their supervision. Administrative unit heads must pursue reasonable monitoring to ensure the integrity of the activities conducted under their oversight.
The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) is the individual responsible for receiving and assessing allegations of research misconduct, assuring that there is a timely response to such allegations, ensuring the timely and thorough execution of relevant processes and proceedings, and disseminating communications to those involved in proceedings such as sponsors and agencies as well as those relevant to post-proceeding activities.
Further information and guidance
Anyone having reason to believe that research misconduct has occurred, or is occurring, must immediately report the information to the RIO, Monika Markowitz, PhD, Director of Research Integrity and Ethics, at firstname.lastname@example.org or ORIE@vcu.edu.
The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at VCU is charged with reviewing all research protocols involving human research subjects to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. The VCU IRB must review and approve all activities that meet applicable definitions pertaining to the terms ‘human subjects’ and ‘research,’ before research may begin.
Federal regulations for human subjects research are based on three overarching ethical principles, also known as the Belmont Principles. These are:
- Respect for Persons – respecting the autonomy of individuals to make their own decisions and protecting individuals with diminished autonomy
- Beneficence – protecting research participants from risk of harm while optimizing possible benefits of the research
- Justice – fairly distributing the benefits and burdens of research
The VCU IRB subscribes to these basic ethical principles of the Belmont Report in the review of all research activities, including informed consent, risk/benefit analysis, and the selection of subjects for research.
Specialized training is required for university members conducting research involving human subjects – see VCU’s CITI Requirements.
Further information and guidance
The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) at VCU is charged with reviewing all research protocols involving the use of animals to ensure compliance with federal and other relevant laws. Such protocols must be reviewed and approved by the IACUC before the research may begin.
Public and scientific concern continues to shape the laws that regulate the humane care and use of animals in research, testing, and instruction. These laws have changed and been updated over the years as public attitudes and awareness have matured. VCU employs the following ethical mandates, known as “The Three Rs” of animal research:
- Reduction – required proof that the number of animals is reduced to the smallest number possible (respecting the value of each life)
- Replacement – required proof that a non-animal model is not available and/or that the species identified is justified (replacing animal use where feasible)
- Refinement – required proof that all procedures ensure the highest quality of compassionate care and comfort (applying standards developed to ensure quality of life through the minimization of risk and discomfort, adequacy of housing, and advanced veterinary medicine)
Specialized training is required for university members conducting research involving animal subjects – see VCU’s ACUP Training Requirements.