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Equipping Emerging Scholars: Responsible Conduct of Research Training

August 29, 2009

Duke University Graduate School has been a national leader in Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training. Having participated in a national research project to identify best practices, the Graduate School offers ongoing education that prepares students to serve as scholars who are critically aware of the need to gain the public trust, contribute to society, and engage in ethical research practices.

As part of Fall Orientation activities, the Graduate School and School of Medicine hosted three separate events for nearly 500 entering Ph.D. students in nearly 50 departments and programs on the subjects of academic integrity and research ethics. Nearly 250 doctoral students in the Natural Sciences and Engineering and 145 students in the Humanities and Social Sciences participated in two RCR Orientation events. A weekend retreat, known as the “Beaufort Retreat,” also was held at Duke Marine Lab for almost 115 entering Ph.D. students in the Basic Medical Sciences. Dan Vallero, leader of the Ethics across the Curriculum Program in the Pratt School of Engineering and a major RCR contributor, notes, “Good ethics is simply good research.”

The campus-based RCR Orientation events were coordinated by Doug James, assistant dean for academic affairs, and featured a host of Duke faculty and staff who led engaging presentations and honest discussions with graduate students about the need for integrity in all aspects of research. Topics included the development of research questions, protections for human subjects, animal care and use, academic integrity in the classroom, responsible research in the digital age, and building an inclusive environment at Duke. David Resnik, bioethicist and Institutional Review Board Chair at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, offered a keynote address on “Responsible Conduct in Research: A Global Concern.” Each day, members of a faculty panel offered anecdotes to demonstrate how questionable research practices can become a challenge in data collection, authorship, or other aspects of conducting research.

The “Beaufort Retreat” was originally developed in 1996 by Jo Rae Wright, now dean of the Graduate School, with assistance from the Graduate School and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. In August 2009, the RCR Retreat was coordinated by a faculty team led by Robert Wechsler-Reya, associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, and David Sherwood, assistant professor of biology, with the support of Dona Chikaraishi, associate professor of neurobiology. This retreat not only serves to introduce serious content in a relaxed atmosphere, but also provides an informal setting in which entering students can meet and talk with nearly 30 faculty and advanced graduate students who serve as TAs for the retreat. Ross McKinney, Jr., Director of Duke’s Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, offered an address on “Why Do We Bother with Research Ethics Training?” Other faculty spoke about authorship and allocation of credit, digital image manipulation, conflict of interest, and the professional obligations of a scientist.

Overall, graduate student feedback has been positive regarding RCR training. In an exit survey, one graduating student commented, “It was helpful to have this training alongside our program. The further I went into my research, the more relevant some of the topics became.” Anne Marie Rasmussen, associate professor of Germanic languages and literature, noted, “The RCR exercise is a great idea. It assumes that graduate students are emerging scholars, not just ‘students’—and that is a very empowering stance.”

— Contributors: Douglas James, Anne Marie Rasmussen, and Dan Vallero