RCR Framework Interpretations: Appropriate supervision and training in the conduct of research (Article 2.7)
As outlined in Article 2.7 of the RCR Framework, all researchers are responsible for familiarizing themselves with principles of responsible conduct of research and for the application of these principles to foster a positive and constructive research working environment. Researchers with oversight roles should provide appropriate supervision of, and training to, their trainees and research personnel in responsible conduct of research.
The term positive for the purposes of this interpretation refers to positive working relationships not positive interpersonal relationships.
Researcher as defined in the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (2021) (RCR Framework) refers to anyone who conducts research activities. For example, a supervisor, a postdoctoral researcher, a student (graduate or undergraduate).
Researchers in oversight roles are responsible for overseeing a research project. This includes supervising or co-supervising their trainees and research personnel, and ensuring they are educated in the responsible conduct of research (RCR). While these responsibilities may be delegated, the researcher in the oversight role assumes ultimate responsibility.
1. My institution already has a policy on appropriate supervision, what should I follow?
Supervision is generally considered an academic responsibility. The RCR Framework, however, includes a broad statement on a researcher's responsibility for appropriate supervision in the conduct of research. If the supervision impacts an individual's ability to conduct research responsibly, then it becomes an RCR matter and falls under the RCR Framework. If the supervision has no research component to it, then the matter falls outside the scope of the RCR Framework. Article 2.7 was created to emphasize the importance of supervision in the conduct of research.
Impact of good supervision on the conduct of research: Supervisors and co-supervisors play a key role in developing trainees and research personnel, as well as their attitudes and behaviors related to responsible conduct of research. Fostering and promoting ethical behavior and a positive and constructive research-working environment helps promote research integrity by enhancing trainee and research personnel's best practices in the conduct of research. Good supervision and functional-working relationships can result in the trainee or research personnel being more likely to follow best practices honestly, accountably, openly, and fairly, avoid breaches and contribute high-quality work to the existing body of knowledge.
Impact of poor supervision on the conduct of research: Neglectful or inadequate training may result in trainees and research personnel who do not know how to meet the RCR Framework's requirements for conducting research with scholarly and scientific rigour, good record keeping, accurate referencing, appropriate authorship and acknowledgement, and managing conflicts of interest appropriately, for example. Unrealistic expectations from a supervisor or co-supervisor and/or insufficient oversight may result in situations in which trainees and research personnel are incentivized to deviate from best practices in their research. While supervision is considered an academic responsibility, when supervision compromises an individual's ability to properly conduct research, it becomes an RCR matter. It is a fact that inadequate training and poor supervision are major contributing factors to breaches of RCR.
Potential recourse related to poor supervision on the conduct of research: Article 2.7 is listed as a researcher responsibility in the RCR Framework. Its inclusion in the RCR Framework ensures that the Agencies and institutions have the authority to act when poor supervision or an unfavorable research environment negatively impacts Agency-funded research. If an institutional inquiry and/or investigation finds that poor supervision has contributed to a breach of the RCR Framework, recourse may be imposed not only on the trainee or research personnel who breached the RCR Framework, but also on the supervisor and/or co-supervisor who failed in their responsibilities under Article 2.7. For example, the Agencies can issue reminders to individuals that good supervision is an important element of research excellence and responsible conduct of research.
2. How do I familiarize myself with principles of responsible conduct of research?
Researchers can become familiar with Agency requirements for the responsible conduct of research by reviewing the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (2021) (RCR Framework) and related educational resources and interpretations.
In accordance with Article 4.5 of the RCR Framework, institutions are responsible for promoting awareness of what constitutes the responsible conduct of research, and for communicating its institutional RCR policy within its community. You may therefore wish to consult with your institution's research office or your institution's designated RCR contact for information relevant to your institutional context.
3. What is meant by fostering a positive and constructive research-working environment?
Fostering a positive and constructive research-working environment is a shared responsibility.
Researchers with oversight roles can promote research integrity and foster a positive research-working environment by modelling behavior and following best research practices honestly, accountably, openly, and fairly. In addition, they are expected to follow the requirements of applicable institutional policies and professional or disciplinary standards and to comply with applicable laws and regulations related to research. They must take reasonable measures to ensure adherence to these policies by the people they are supervising or co-supervising. They should also, where appropriate, provide education and direct communication to their trainees and personnel about their expectations for responsible conduct of research in the discipline.
Trainees and research personnel can promote responsible conduct of research and foster a positive research-working environment by carefully reviewing Agency requirements, educational RCR materials provided to them, and by ensuring that they are aware of all relevant RCR policies, procedures, and RCR contacts at their institution. They can also contribute by asking questions when they are uncertain about proper research practices for their discipline, discussing and clarifying expectations with their supervisor and providing ongoing feedback and clear communication about their research activities with their colleagues and supervisor or co-supervisor.
Institutions have a responsibility to promote RCR and foster a positive research-working environment to its entire community of researchers by developing clear RCR policies and procedures and by offering appropriate training opportunities and resources for their researchers, supervisors, trainees, and research personnel. Institutions should also ensure that trainees and research personnel know who to contact in confidence if they have questions or concerns about the responsible conduct of research. Information related to institutional RCR policies and RCR contacts should be clearly communicated on institutional websites.
4. How can supervisors and trainees or research personnel work together to foster a positive and constructive research-working environment?
Trainees and/or research personnel work with their supervisor or co-supervisor in a professional relationship. While the institution should be the first resource for guidance, the following examples may be helpful to guide and foster a positive and constructive research-working environment and professional relationship within the research team.
- communicate often and clearly with each other;
- ensure there is a common understanding of roles, responsibilities, and reasonable and attainable expectations to avoid unrealistic pressures in the research-working environment that could potentially lead to questionable research practices or breaches in research policies;
- discuss expectations openly and transparently;
- establish agreements, if applicable, regarding authorship, acknowledgement, and contributions prior to beginning the research or writing a paper and submitting it to a journal;
- ensure there is a safe space in which parties feel comfortable to ask questions;
- discuss RCR on a regular basis so that the topic is not seen as taboo; hold periodic meetings as a group on select RCR topics (e.g., authorship, how to acknowledge other's contributions, how to appropriately cite a research paper);
- review work together to ensure data is accurate and is not falsified, fabricated, or plagiarized;
- ensure the research-working environment is functional constructive, and respectful to avoid any potential negative impact on the conduct of the research; and
- establish clear guidance and expectations on record keeping, in line with the discipline and the policies of the institution.
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