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Responsible Conduct of Research

As a premier academic and research institution, Vanderbilt University has an obligation to model, teach and actively promote the responsible conduct of research in scholarship and science. Research integrity is fundamental to good research and crosses all disciplines and areas of focus.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) require that all those engaged in either NIH- or NSF-funded research must also be educated in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). Vanderbilt has developed programs to meet these requirements and to ensure that its students, faculty and staff, as appropriate, understand the issues surrounding the RCR, and their obligations as individuals and members of the larger research community.


What is Responsible Conduct of Research?

“Responsible conduct of research is defined as the practice of scientific investigation with integrity. It involves the awareness and application of established professional norms and ethical principles in the performance of all activities related to scientific research.” - NIH


NSF: Federal Register Volume 74, Number 160

"The Director shall require that each institution that applies for financial assistance from the Foundation for science and engineering research or education describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project."

NSF Basic Principles
  • Conflict of interest – personal, professional, and financial
  • Policies regarding human subjects, live vertebrate animal subjects in research, and safe laboratory practices
  • Mentor/mentee responsibilities and relationships
  • Collaborative research, including collaborations with industry
  • Peer review
  • Research misconduct and policies for handling misconduct
  • Responsible authorship and publication
  • The scientist as a responsible member of society, contemporary ethical issues in biomedical/social science/engineering research, and the environmental and societal impacts of scientific research
NIH: NIH Notice NOT-OD-16-122
NIH requires that all trainees, fellows, participants, and scholars receiving support through any NIH training, career development award (individual or institutional), research education grant, and dissertation research grant must receive instruction in responsible conduct of research. This policy also applies to any other NIH-funded programs supporting research training, career development, or research education that require instruction in responsible conduct of research as stated in the relevant funding opportunity announcements.
NIH Basic Principles

The following principles are based on several key concepts about responsible conduct of research and best practices that have evolved over the past two decades’ experiences:

  • Responsible conduct of research is an essential component of research training. Therefore, instruction in responsible conduct of research is an integral part of all research training programs, and its evaluation will impact funding decisions.
  • Active involvement in the issues of responsible conduct of research should occur throughout a scientist’s career. Instruction in responsible conduct of research should therefore be appropriate to the career stage of the individuals receiving training.
  • Individuals supported by individual funding opportunities such as fellowships and career development awards are encouraged to assume individual and personal responsibility for their instruction in responsible conduct of research.
  • Research faculty of the institution should participate in instruction in responsible conduct of research in ways that allow them to serve as effective role models for their trainees, fellows, and scholars.
  • Instruction should include face-to-face discussions by course participants and faculty; i.e., on-line instruction may be a component of instruction in responsible conduct of research but is not sufficient to meet the NIH requirement for such instruction, except in special or unusual circumstances.
  • Instruction in responsible conduct of research must be carefully evaluated in all NIH grant applications for which it is a required component.
Graduate Students
Postdoctoral Researchers
Undergraduate Students

All new graduate students are required to take the CITI course for their discipline during their first semester of study. Some are also required to participate in additional discussion-based RCR education, prior to completing their degrees. Each department has defined that discussion-based program for its students, based on the specific disciplines. To find out more about your department’s requirements, please check with your department chairman or director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

All new postdoctoral researchers are required to complete the CITI course during their first year of appointment. In addition, as part of their annual reappointment, postdocs and their mentors must discuss how they will address additional RCR education during the coming year. This should be noted on the annual mentoring plan. If you have any questions, please check with your department chairman or your faculty mentor. Departments may also require undergraduates majoring in their programs to take the online program, or may have additional RCR requirements.

All undergraduates who receive a salary and/or stipend from NSF must complete the online CITI course for the discipline in which they are working (not necessarily their home department). The deadline for completing the RCR online course is 30 days after you start work or 45 days after the start of the term, whichever is earlier. After that date, any individual who has not completed the course will be prohibited from working in their laboratory until the course is completed and certified.

Directed/Independent Studies Students who do not complete the RCR course by the deadline will not receive credit.


VU Responsible Conduct in Research

Vanderbilt’s approach incorporates online and discussion-based content based on the individual’s experience level and discipline.

The RCR series covers core norms, principles, regulations, and rules governing the practice of research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) require certain categories of researchers to receive RCR training. RCR is increasingly viewed as an essential component of training, regardless of a researcher's source of funding.

The RCR series consists of a basic course, complemented with a set of additional modules of interest, and a refresher course.

Click here to find out how to register and begin working on the course.


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