Professional Ethics and Responsible Research Conduct

Professional Ethics and Responsible
Research Conduct
(for graduate students and research
Dr. Sundar Christopher
The Big One - Plagiarism
• Plagiarism simply means copying someone
else’s stuff – including words
• Never cut and paste from text
• Simply moving a few words around is a no-no
as well
• There are a lot of software programs that can
check matches between your text and others
• So beware!
Dr. Sundar Christopher
• Advisor gives student leading edge recent paper
• Student copies several portions of text from paper for a
class report
• Professor for class gets excited about student’s paper
• Professor walks into advisor’s office and exclaims: This
is a fantastic class report by your student
• Advisor tells professor that this was from a paper that
he gave student
• Student expelled from program for plagiarism
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Story continued
• This was an international student’s first year.
• However the University followed strict
• How can Professors avoid such a problem?
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Sign a form
• Students do not realize that when they entered the University
they signed several forms that talk about professional ethics.
• Professors can remind students for each course by asking them to
sign a honor statement:
I promise or affirm that I will not at any time be involved in
cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, misrepresentation, or any other
form of academic misconduct as outlined in the [University
Name] Student Handbook while I am enrolled as a student at
[University Name]. I understand that violating this promise will
result in penalties as severe as indefinite suspension from
[University Name].
• Professors can also discuss professional ethics as part of the
introductory lecture.
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Plagiarism - Proposals
• If you are the Principal Investigator then you have
to take full responsibility.
• You cannot have excuses such as: “I did not know
that the material that my co-investigator sent me
was from someone else’s text.”
• Funding agencies have severe punitive measures
for plagiarism.
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PI writes a major proposal and is rushed for time.
He has several co-investigators.
PI asks a co-I for some material related to proposal.
Co-I sends portions of a dissertation from another University.
PI assumes that the co-I wrote the section.
PI submits proposals.
Agency sends proposal for review.
Reviewer happens to be the author of the dissertation.
Reviewer contacts agency about plagiarism issue.
Agency contacts PI and debars PI from writing proposals for 3 years.
University suspends PI from writing any proposal or advising
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Possible Solutions
• Know your co-investigators.
• Never assume that the material that you are provided
is written from scratch.
• Double check everything.
• If you run into issues, talk to your Office of Sponsored
Programs personnel starting from the Vice President
of Research.
• Compliance officers in your organization are there to
• Full disclosure always helps.
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• Do not fabricate data.
• Though tempting, it is not a good idea to fit a data
point into a preconceived hypothesis or solution.
• Do not show selective data.
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Example: Correlation coefficients
• While it is tempting to make all points line up
on a 1:1 line and only show those points,
often times the fun science is in those outliers.
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• Write your research papers clearly and in a
fashion that someone from another continent
can replicate.
• If you clearly explain your data, methods, and
analysis, then there is no perception of
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• It’s a sticky subject, but know the ground rules that are
established by your advisor or team lead.
• If you are an advisor, tell your student or postdoc who will be the
first author on papers and define your criteria for establishing
authorship and FIRST authorship.
• Remember that your advisor has spent a lot of time and energy
building a lab or a team. Therefore, either work within the
established ground rules or find another advisor.
• Never complain after the fact that you did not know the rules of
• Ask at the beginning of your graduate career.
• Better safe than sorry.
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What if my advisor wants me to cheat
on research
• On rare occasion, it is possible that your advisor
wants you to avoid the principles of professional
• Make sure that you are not making a mountain of
a molehill. There may be a communication gap
between your advisor and you.
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If they want fabrication
• You need to talk to you mentor if you have one.
• This is a difficult subject. Request a private
meeting with the advisor’s supervisor.
• If you are not comfortable with this approach,
then you have to involve someone really higher
up the chain such as the Office of Vice President
of Research.
Dr. Sundar Christopher
• While scientific collaborations can be fun and
exciting, you must know the rules of engagement
before hand.
• If you are writing a joint paper, who will be first
author? Establish this first so there are no
misgivings later on.
• Establish timelines and work diligently to solve
problems and finish assignments on time.
Dr. Sundar Christopher
Who should be coauthor?
• Should the one who gives you data be a coauthor? They
know the data best. They spent time and money making
these measurements or building these models. Ask them to
write the data section and provide quality
controlled/assured data. Ask them to provide input to entire
• Offer coauthorship to people who contribute.
• List of authors should reflect who contributed the most to
• All else being equal, after a few authors, the remaining on
the list are alphabetized. Make sure you know such rules of
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Conflict of interest
• Do not subcontract part of a federally funded
grant to your brother’s company.
• This is actual and perceived financial gain and a
conflict of interest.
• Watch out for personal, professional, and political
conflicts of interests.
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• It is your responsibility to tell everyone orally and/or in
written form (peer reviewed forms) if you received funding
to do this research.
• If you are doing global warming research and if you
received funds from a wind energy company to perform
that research, you have an ethical responsibility to state it
upfront in your paper.
• If you are doing research on global warming and receiving
funds from coal industry, the same applies.
• You get the point.
• Full disclosure is a good thing. You can sleep well at night.
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Moonlighting (Consulting)
• Example: If you are a Professor who is doing research
as part of your University functions, consulting on the
side is not necessarily a bad thing.
• Universities have guidelines on how many hours of
consulting you can perform per month.
• Fill out the appropriate paperwork with appropriate
signatures so you are on the up and up!
• Again, knowing the rules of engagement is the key
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Who owns you – Patents and such?
• You need to know the rules of engagement about
patents. If you are a University employee, there
are strict guidelines on who owns what.
• Talk to the appropriate offices on campus.
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Final Slide
• You cannot anticipate every single event that will
happen in your research career.
• When in doubt take a step back and re-evaluate.
• Know the rules and regulations.
• Talk to mentors, peers, and the organizational folks
who are good at this type of thing.
• Above all, use common sense.
• Like everything else – communicate.
• And as painful as it may be – attend a workshop on
research conduct on your campus :)
Dr. Sundar Christopher