Responsible Conduct of Research

The Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) is defined as the practice of scientific investigation with integrity by applying ethical norms and principles in the performance of research.  The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to the ethical conduct of research and a culture of compliance through providing education and resources for our faculty, staff, and students involved in research and scholarly activities.

We care greatly about RCR because we want to ensure compliance, sound scientific process, and public trust in our research.  

The goal of research is to advance knowledge through critical inquiry and scientific experimentation. At UNL, we achieve these goals together through sound research design, conduct, and reporting. However, policies and guidance on how to conduct research responsibly can vary and may not always fit neatly together. Further, specific rules for research can vary between disciplines. With that in mind, the Federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) notes that the responsible conduct of research will generally adhere to four basic rules:

  1. Professional Codes of Conduct: These can vary, depending on your discipline and specific field of research. In general, advisors and mentors in your area should be able to guide you on both basic and in-depth understanding of what is appropriate. In addition, many resources on responsible practices are available from the National Academy of Sciences and different discipline specific associations or journals.
  2. Government Regulations: Researchers are often recipients of public funds issued from Federal agencies, thus, the U.S. government wants to ensure that the funds are used correctly and the research is conducted appropriately. In order to communicate this, Federal agencies issue regulations that set forth the minimum requirements in which researchers are expected to comply. These Federal agencies have policies and guidance information posted publicly in order to readily provide answers.
  3. Institutional Policies: As a steward of public funds, UNL is required to have certain policies that cover our research programs in order to accept such funds. However, we often apply these requirements broadly to all research, regardless of funding. These policies are normally based off of government regulations but may also incorporate State or University requirements. This is one of the reasons why the various offices under the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED) exist. We have a number of web pages that detail our policies and guidance information along with expertise in a wide range of areas to help ensure research is conducted responsibly.
  4. Personal Convictions: Researchers can think of this somewhat as their own moral compass. Part of being an ethical and responsible researcher is understanding that you must take responsibility for the decisions that are made throughout the course of your research. These decisions have real impact not only on your career, but also the University, the public, and the careers of others around you.

If you are unsure about these basic rules or navigating difficult areas, you should ask questions and seek guidance.

Remember, rules are great but they must also be supplemented with good judgment and a strong sense of personal integrity. At UNL, we want to ensure you are equipped with the knowledge for identifying what regulations you must adhere to but also understand that you may encounter grey areas where the regulations may not be able to provide clear answers. It is important for researchers to recognize these concepts and know who to contact or when it is best to proceed with caution.

Sara Quinn, Director for Research Compliance Services