Ethical Scenarios & RCR FAQ

Ethical Scenarios

Note: The below scenarios are based off of those provided by the Federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI). Additional scenarios or information on them can be found on the ORI website.

Scenario 1: You’ve just accepted a relatively junior position in a well-established research group at a new institution. A few months later, as you are preparing a paper for publication in a well-known journal, based mostly on your work from your previous location, you ask the prestigious Department Chair to review the paper prior to journal submission. The Chair carefully reads the paper and makes many critical or constructive comments. You also noticed that he’s added his name to the author list and a final note that he is volunteering to cover the page charges if the article is accepted. What do you do?

Answer: You should first try discussing this with the Department Chair and see if perhaps an acknowledgment instead or authorship would be possible. Or, seek guidance from another senior faculty member in your department on how best to navigate this. However, you should not provide authorship in this manner. If you did, it would be an example of Guest authorship (i.e., honorary, courtesy or prestige authorship) is granting authorship to an individual who does not meet the definition of author out of appreciation or respect for the individual, or in the belief that the expert standing of the guest will increase the likelihood of publication, credibility, or status of the work. Or it could also be Gift authorship, which is credit, offered from a sense of obligation, tribute, or dependence, within the context of an anticipated benefit, to an individual who has not contributed to the work.

Authorship of a scientific or scholarly paper should be limited to those individuals who have contributed in a meaningful and substantive way to its intellectual content. An author is generally considered to be an individual who has made substantial intellectual contributions to a scientific or scholarly publication. All authors should meet the following three criteria:
1. Scholarship: Contribute significantly to the conception, design, execution, and/or analysis and interpretation of data.
2. Authorship: Participate in drafting, reviewing, and/or revising the manuscript for intellectual content.
3. Approval: Approve the manuscript for publication.

Scenario 2: Dr. Smith at UNL is working as the PI on a large research project funded by the NIH. She wrote the original grant proposal but does very little day-to-day work on the project. Instead, you, Dr. Smith’s post-doc, do everything to oversee all aspects of the project, including supervision of the lab and all data management activities. In addition, you’ve been an author on a few publications about the project’s research findings (but you deserve far more credit). Who owns the project and its data?

A. Is it Dr. Smith, as the PI?
B. Is it you, the post-doc since you’ve done all of the work?
C. Is it the University?
D. Is it the NIH?
E. Or, it’s all shared and no one has specific ownership?

Answer: The University (c). Despite Dr. Smith’s and your work on the project, the sponsoring institution typically maintains ownership of a project’s data as long as the PI submitted the grant through that institution and is employed by them. However, within the sponsoring institution (UNL), a PI is generally granted stewardship over the project data; they normally are ultimately responsible for the project and control the course, publication, and copyright of the research, subject to institutional review.

This is important to keep in mind particularly if a researcher plans to leave their institution and go to another one. Agreements must be in place between the institutions to ensure appropriate data stewardship, security, and address whether or not any intellectual property or other requirements must be met.

Scenario 3: You’ve been working on a vaccine for ricin exposure and have depleted your ricin supply; you need more ASAP in order to not lose all the progress you’ve made this week on a possible breakthrough. Your PI tells you to call one of their colleagues, who works at a private company and has cheap access to provide you with more ricin. The colleague says, no problem!, and emails you over an agreement to sign for the transfer of the materials. You really need the ricin soon, but you’re not sure if you should sign off on the agreement. You vaguely recall that maybe someone else did that last time. What should you do?

A. Sign off on the agreement, you’ve got to get this done!
B. Talk to your PI and ask them to sign off on the agreement, after all, they’re in charge.
C. Call the IBC, they will know what to do.
D. Call your department and see if they can help.

Answer: Call the IBC (c). Ricin is a select agent, and appropriate approvals and reviews must be done in order to bring more ricin to campus. In addition, only certain people on campus are designated as signatory officials in this capacity (you and your PI do not have this authority). You should always contact a research oversight office in order to receive or initiate agreements involving research materials or data.

Training FAQs

How will I know if I am required to complete RCR training?
Research Compliance Services (RCS) administers the RCR training requirement on a semester basis. At the beginning of the semester, RCS staff will determine who is subject to the requirement and notify those individuals of the requirement, the steps for enrollment, and the deadline for that semester.

RCS sends notifications via email to individuals who must complete the training. In the case of NIH and NSF-supported students and postdoctoral researchers, the faculty member (and if applicable, another designated administrator) responsible for them will also be notified of the requirement. Individuals will receive email reminders directly halfway through the semester as well as the day before the deadline.

What are the consequences of noncompliance with the training requirement?
The NIH, NSF and USDA/NIFA require all mentored researchers to complete RCR training; therefore, non-compliant institutions may become ineligible for NIH, NSF and USDA/NIFA funding. Your department may lose some financial support and you may not be able to renew your assistantship or other research employment.

I need to (or would like to) complete the training but I don’t know what to do?
Please reference our education & training page for information on how to enroll and complete the training.

I’m an undergraduate working in a Biological Sciences lab, but I’m a History (or Art, or English, etc.) major. Do I need to take the training?
Although the regulation requires RCR training for undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers receiving NIH, NSF or USDA NIFA funds, we believe that this is a useful tool for all students and postdoctoral researchers on UNL’s campus. Therefore, the self-enrolled training is available to the entire campus.

Can the training be completed in pieces throughout the semester or does it all need to be done at one time? Is there a completion deadline?
CITI saves your progress so you can split the course into sessions as you see fit, keeping in mind that you’ll need to complete the course by the deadline indicated in your notification email. If you don’t complete the course, you may not be able to renew your assistantship or other research employment. The online CITI training courses should be completed prior to starting work on your research project.

What course materials will I need to purchase? Is there a reading packet or book for the course?
The online RCR training is completely self-contained on the CITI website. No outside materials are required.

If you are required to complete in-person RCR training, information will also be provided to you prior to the workshop.

Will I be charged more class fees or tuition hours because I registered for this training?
No. The training course (online or in-person) is offered at no cost to you, there are no fees or tuition.

I’ve previously completed RCR training courses; however, they were not taken through CITI. Do I really need to take this training?
We commend you for completing other training and apologize for any inconvenience, but UNL Research Compliance Services (RCS) needs to track compliance with the NIH, NSF, USDA NIFA requirements. If you can provide documentation of RCR CITI training and in-person training, we may be able to waive the need for further training. However, this will be determined at the discretion of Research Compliance Services and following their review of the training documentation you provide.

Does the online training replace the IRB and IACUC training programs offered through CITI?
No. The RCR course (online or in-person) doesn’t replace IRB, IACUC and other training programs. The new training course covers only topics of RCR applicable to students and researchers of all disciplines.

How is completion of the RCR training tracked?
Upon completing the RCR course you will receive a completion certificate either through CITI or a letter upon completion of the in-person training. You should keep this information for your records. You may also want to provide a copy of the certificate to your department office or your advisor. A list of individuals who have completed the RCR training (both online and in-person) is also maintained by Research Compliance Services.