"As part of a community of scholars, we share our research and build upon the work of one another. As such, it is critical that our research and scholarship be conducted, shared, and judged with integrity. The quality of our reputation depends on the quality of our research and scholarship." - Research Integrity Council, Michigan State University

Ethics in Research

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

The responsible conduct of research (RCR) refers to "the thoughtful and honest adherence to relevant ethical, disciplinary, and financial standards in the promotion, design, conduct, evaluation, and reporting of research in one's field". - Adapted from definitions used in the 2009 Survey on Responsible Research Practices.

Dr. Nicholas Steneck describes four common values associated with the responsible conduct of research in his publication, Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research:

  • honesty: conveying information truthfully and honoring commitments
  • accuracy: reporting findings precisely and taking care to avoid errors
  • efficiency: using resources wisely and avoiding waste
  • objectivity: letting the facts speak for themselves and avoiding improper bias

Mandatory Training for Undergraduate Researchers

Everyone -- including undergraduate researchers - working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institute of Health (NIH) grant must complete Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training.

If you are an undergraduate researcher receiving funding from another source but you are working on an NSF or NIH-funded project, you must complete RCR training.

RCR training is offered by the unit, department, or program overseeing your research. Please consult with your research mentor for additional information.


The Institutional Review Board (IRB)

Research must be conducted with integrity. To ensure this goal is met, federal and University regulations require that all research projects involving human subjects and materials of human origin be reviewed and approved by MSU's Institutional Review Board (IRB) before initiation.


The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a committee comprised of faculty members and charged with protecting "the rights, welfare and privacy of human subjects who participate in research conducted by students and/or faculty affiliated with MSU" (IRB Mission Statement).

Any research that involves human subjects or human material (e.g. human tissue or blood) must receive IRB approval before any data collection occurs. A human subject is defined as "a living individual whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information." (Code of Federal Regulations, 45CFR46.102).

Research projects that require IRB approval include interviews, mail or telephone surveys, the use of existing data (e.g. surveys, biological materials of human origin), interventions, etc.

The committee that reviews your research project will be considering factors such as:

  • risk/benefit ratio
  • selection of subjects
  • informed consent
  • privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity
  • incentives for participation; and
  • the potential for conflicts of interest.

Depending on the nature of the project, it can take 10-15 days or longer to receive approval. The IRB recommends that you apply at least one (1) month before you would like to start collecting data to ensure the process is complete.

Remember, you CANNOT start collecting any data until you have received approval.

If you have questions regarding the IRB process, you should speak with your mentor, review the IRB's website, or contact an IRB staff member at (517) 355-2180.


The Animal Welfare Act

In addition, all scientists, research technicians, animal technicians, and other personnel (including undergraduate researchers) involved in animal care, treatment, and use need to be aware of their responsibilities as dictated by the Animal Welfare Act.

You can learn more about all aspects of the responsible use of animals in university research and instructional activities at Michigan State by visiting the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee website.


Additional Resources

The Lab - An interactive film on research misconduct created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Research Integrity. The simulation addresses topics such as avoiding research misconduct, mentorship responsibilities, handling of data, responsible authorship, and questionable research practices.

On Being A Scientist: A Guide Responsible Conduct in Research  - Published by the National Academies, this book is available at no cost as an electronic download. Topics include research misconduct, intellectual property, and the treatment of data.

Research Integrity - Developed by MSU's Graduate School, this page includes weblinks to resources related to RCR and research integrity.