New grad school project raises profile of research integrity

Researchers in any field know that ethics are a top concern. But what, exactly, does that entail? One Michigan State University poll found that as graduate students become more immersed in their programs, they feel less obligated to report violations of research integrity. This spring, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School introduces an initiative to assess the climate of scholarly integrity and encourage students, faculty members and researchers to integrate discussions of scholarly integrity into every level of the research experience.

“Scholarly integrity is such a crucial priority,” says Martin Cadwallader, dean of the Graduate School. “We welcome the opportunity to be at the forefront of these efforts.”

The Wisconsin Project for Scholarly Integrity (WiPSI) took shape in September during a meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools. Jim Wells, director of the Office of Research Policy, and Eileen Callahan, director of graduate student professional development, are leading collaborative efforts with colleagues from Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University. The Council of Graduate Schools’ (CGS) Project for Scholarly Integrity, funded by the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provided support.

“Though we have a number of faculty committees reviewing research for issues such as treatment of human subjects, conflict of interest and stem cell research, we feel we need more general education of the campus,” says Wells. “It becomes more important as the people who fund research increase in their concern about these issues.”

Representatives from each participating university worked together to create an institutional climate survey as the cornerstone of the assessment. Wells hopes to administer this survey twice to compare the results before and after the initiative takes place. He anticipates that results of the survey will also help highlight any differences between programs and streamline efforts in different parts of the campus.

“In the past, we haven’t looked at the perception of scholarly integrity among our graduate students, so this is a good opportunity to see where we stand,” says Wells. “I’d like to see something like this climate survey become a regular way of assessing the quality of our research integrity on campus.”

In addition to the institutional climate survey, WiPSI’s Graduate Student Mentor Compact will explicitly outline the standards for the roles of both graduate students and their faculty advisers, integrating the topic of scholarly integrity into their discussions. Finally, a campus-wide “future faculty preparation program” will encourage discussions of research integrity as students look beyond the immediate demands of graduate training to a future professional career.

“We’re not just talking about the impact of research integrity on academia, but government and the private sector,” says Wells. “Graduate students and other research trainees come here to learn the craft of research, and part of the craft is doing it ethically.”