Research Ethics Training Requirement for NSF and USDA-NIFA
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) require institutions to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to everyone who participates in or conducts research supported by funding from these agencies, including undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff. Institutions are required to detail their plans to meet this requirement, and document completion of the training.
The University of Minnesota meets this requirement with the following procedures:
Three main topics were selected as the primary focus for this training to support the idea that students involved in research will likely become the next generation of researchers and scholars, and that this training should create a foundation for their future research and investigation. While each discipline and type of research may drive different kinds of ethical training, there is a core set of topics that training for any student researcher should address to create a foundation for their future research and investigation:
- Authorship & Plagiarism - roles and responsibilities of being an author; how different disciplines approach co-authorship; how to define, identify, and avoid the many forms plagiarism can take
- Data/Research Integrity - how to collect, store, protect, and share data in ways that protect the validity and accuracy of the research and scholarship
- Reporting Misconduct - responsibilities of student researchers for identifying and reporting misconduct; University resources for reporting and for self-protection
Oversight and tracking of the training is a responsibility shared by the PI and the University, to be coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), Research Education and Oversight (REO). PIs and their academic units will be responsible for identifying current courses and activities that meet the requirement and encourage the development of new courses and activities. OVPR will provide infrastructure to identify and notify students who need the training and maintain completion records.
- Structure for Training
Format: In-person training is the best format to facilitate discussion and in-depth consideration of these topics. However, online training is the more realistic option, given existing resources. The online training must incorporate some sort of interactive element, such as synchronous or asynchronous online chats or discussions, or the ability to assess understanding.
Length of training: The minimum topics must be addressed in a substantive way. While no minimum time is dictated, experience indicates that at least 2 hours are needed to cover this material.
Due dates: Students must be enrolled in a semester-long course or have completed this training activity within 30 days after they begin to be funded by the project. If enrolled in a course that extends beyond 30-day deadline, successful completion of course will be verified.
Other training: The research ethics training will not substitute for other coursework that must be completed because of the nature of the research being conducted, e.g., human subjects' protection, animal subjects' protection, lab safety, etc.
- Options for completing training requirement
OVPR maintains a list of courses, seminars and activities approved to meet the NSF and USDA-NIFA research ethics training requirement, at
Postdoctoral researchers can complete the Collaborative IRB Training Initiative (CITI) Responsible Conduct of Research curriculum (see approved course list for details). Postdoctoral researchers who plan to apply for funding as a University of Minnesota principal investigator (PI) must complete the University's Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) core curriculum. For details, see
Graduate and Undergraduate Students:
Students complete the requirement in one of the following ways:
- Complete a course or seminar that has been approved to meet the requirement and submit the signed Completion Form to firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Complete the Collaborative IRB Training Initiative (CITI) Responsible Conduct of Research curriculum (see approved course list for details); or
- Complete some other unit/department-developed course or activity that has been approved to meet the requirement and submit the signed Completion Form to email@example.com.
- Approval process for courses, seminars, and other activities
The Associate Dean for Research or equivalent for each college or academic unit serves as a clearinghouse to identify and approve courses, seminars, and other activities that meet this requirement. REO publishes and maintains the list with information from the academic units.
Reports will be generated to identify the students, postdocs and staff who are being paid from these sponsored projects, based on UMN payroll records for the appropriate employee categories. An automated e-mail will be sent to the individuals who have not yet completed the required training, based on this report. A copy of the email will also be sent to the PI on the project and to the Resource Responsibility Center (RRC) Manager assigned to the unit. The email will contain information about the requirement, the options and deadline for completing it, and the consequences for failure to do so.
- Oversight and tracking of requirement
Oversight and tracking of this research ethics training requirement is a responsibility shared between PIs, departments, and OVPR/REO. Completion of for-credit courses and the CITI RCR curriculum will be tracked electronically. If students complete non-credit seminars or activities, the coordinating department or program must submit a list of participants to REO, or the individual student must submit a Completion Form to REO. All data entry of completed courses or activities is done by REO staff.
- Failure to complete training:
If the requirement has not been met at the 30-day deadline, a final reminder email will be sent to the student, PI, RRC Manager, and to the Associate Dean for Research or equivalent for the collegiate unit. If the training is not completed after this final reminder, REO will work with Sponsored Financial Reporting (SFR) to remove the individual's salary and fringe benefits charged to the project to a departmental non-sponsored default account until the requirement has been met.