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Student researchers to take online training course

By : Greg Norman

Binghamton University undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students conducting research with the financial assistance of the National Science Foundation (NSF) will have to fulfill a new federal requirement to maintain their funding.

According to the America COMPETES Act, signed into law in 2007 and implemented by the NSF on Jan. 4, all schools must “provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers,” for their projects.

To help students meet these standards, Binghamton University will require them to complete a two-hour online Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training course, supplemented with a face-to-face discussion group led by Stephen Gilje, associate vice president for research at Binghamton.

The online course covers nine areas of ethics in research — including data ownership and management, peer review and responsible authorship and publication.

“Within each of these topics there’s in print the kind of the things that would be in good practice and the things that would not be good practice,” said Nancy Stamp, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. “We want them to have all the information and discuss with them some of the pitfalls and hopefully they’ll understand and won’t make an ethical mistake.”

Each category includes details sucas etiquette when researching with others, keeping peer-reviewed information private and the protocol when using human and animal subjects in research.

According to Gilje, Binghamton is taking the training a step further with the discussion component, which he said was added to improve the quality of the training. He also anticipates that the National Institutes of Health will require discussion hours in the future when applying for its grants.

At three discussions — one each this semester for the school’s 28 post-doctoral, 12 undergrad and 50 graduate researchers — Gilje will help clear up “gray areas” in the compliance requirements relevant to their research and answer questions students may have about the training.

“It’s one thing to do something unethical, it’s another thing to do something wrong because you didn’t know,” Gilje said.

Failure to complete the training could endanger a project’s funding through the NSF.

Although the NSF’s requirement came into effect on Jan. 4, Binghamton has required thousands of graduate students to complete RCR training online since 2005.

“If they (didn’t) complete it by the end of their first semester they (were) blocked from taking courses,” Stamp said. “We did this before the America COMPETES Act because across the country everybody realizes that this is really important for students to have this kind of background.”

According to Stamp, at Binghamton’s 2010 Winter Session, in-person guidance was first given with a five-day training workshop, which included two days of RCR training, two days on the theory and process of interdisciplinary research and one day of mentorship training.

Stamp said the face-to-face discussions are not required for students doing research with funding independent from the NSF, but encourages interested students to attend.

“If you understand how you can do a good job with RCR, you also understand the obligations of being a good mentor,” she said. “It will help them have a broader perspective and be able to look at (research) from different points of view, so they’re less likely to get in some conflict situations.”

Gilje added that he thinks the training will uphold public confidence for research across the nation.

“In the last 20 years people have focused tremendously on research results in the health- care area — especially miracle cures and advances. I think the American public has grown to expect these kinds of research results,” he said. “When it hits newspapers that there has been a fraud or misconduct, that really undercuts the faith people have in research and their willingness to have the government support it.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08