Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

Responsible and ethical research behavior of researchers and research institutions has historically relied on a system of self-regulation based on shared ethical principles and commonly accepted practices. In response to a rising number of cases of questionable research practices at major research institutions in the 1980s, the Institute of Medicine noted in a report in 1989 that “instruction in the standards and ethics of research is essential to the proper education of scientists.” In subsequent years, both the NIH and NSF implemented requirements for certain grant programs to provide training in the responsible conduct of research (RCR).

NIH RCR Requirements

All trainees, fellows, participants, and scholars receiving support through any National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant, career development award (individual or institutional), research education grant, or dissertation research grant must receive instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR).  More information regarding this NIH requirement can be found here.

Instructional Plan

Principal Investigator (PI) Responsibilities:

  • The PI must develop a discipline-specific, tailored plan for RCR training that meets the NIH requirements. The instructional plan is evaluated as a component of the NIH funding proposal.  Applications without an RCR instructional plan may be delayed in the review process or not reviewed.
  • The PI is responsible for ensuring that course attendance is monitored and that a certificate or documentation of participation is available upon course completion. Although the NIH does not require Brown or the PI to submit training documentation to the NIH, training records are subject to audit.
  • The PI is responsible for maintaining RCR training records to document that all NIH-supported trainees, fellows, and scholars received the required instruction.
  • The PI must comply with specific reporting requirements in continuation applications.

The RCR instructional plan must meet NIH requirements for educational content, training format, and frequency.  The following topics must be addressed in the training plan:

  • Conflict of interest – personal, professional, and financial
  • Policies regarding human subjects, live vertebrate animal subjects in research, and safe laboratory practices
  • Mentor/mentee responsibilities and relationships
  • Collaborative research, including collaborations with industry
  • Peer review
  • Data acquisition and laboratory tools; management, sharing and ownership
  • Research misconduct and policies for handling misconduct
  • Responsible authorship and publication
  • The scientist as a responsible member of society, contemporary ethical issues in biomedical research, and the environmental and societal impacts of scientific research

The instructional plan must include coursework with significant face-to-face interaction and should involve participation by research faculty members. While on-line instruction may be used as a component of the training program, it is not sufficient to meet the NIH requirement for RCR instruction.  

PIs wishing to use supplemental online instruction as part of their training program, can use Brown CITI RCR Course as part of their instructional plan. All the NIH required topics are addressed in the CITI RCR coursework. If used, the most relevant, discipline-specific CITI RCR course (Biomedical Research, Social and Behavioral Research, Physical Science, Humanities, or Engineering) should be specified. The CITI RCR course also offers online case studies that can be used for face-to-face discussions.

NIH’s Policy on Rigor and Reproducibility

More information on NIH’s new Rigor and Reproducibility requirements can be found here

NSF RCR Requirements

The NSF requires certification that Brown has a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers who receive NSF support to conduct research. Certification of University compliance is done by an authorized Brown University representative as part of the institutional proposal approval process. More information about the NSF requirements can be found here.

Required Instruction

While Brown currently accepts completion of the CITI online course in the Responsible Conduct of Research as satisfying the NSF RCR training requirement, the institution strongly recommends that all students and postdoctoral researchers supported by NSF sponsored projects complete one of Brown's instructional RCR courses.   If taking the CITI RCR course, students and postdocs must complete the most relevant discipline-specific CITI RCR course (Biomedical Research, Social and Behavioral Research, Physical Science, Humanities, or Engineering).

Brown RCR CITI Course

Review of the required materials and completion of the quizzes will take about 30-35 minutes per topic. Courses do not have to be completed in one session. A minimum aggregate score of 80% is required to pass the RCR course.  Effective March 2015, the CITI Program website blocks use of Internet Explorer version 7.  Site users must use IE 8 or later, or use a current version of Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

NSF Principal Investigator (PI) Responsibilities:

  • PIs do not need to include RCR program details in their proposals; NSF only requires certification that a program is in place.
  • The PI must ensure that all students and postdocs complete the RCR requirement. PIs should direct the trainees to enroll in one of Brown’s in-person RCR programs or complete the RCR CITI training module.
  • The PI is also encouraged to familiarize herself with RCR topics, best practices, and ethical and compliance standards, and discuss responsible conduct of research with students and postdocs in the lab or in the research group.
  • The PI must maintain records to document that each trainee has completed an RCR course. Training records are subject to monitoring by NSF and Brown University auditors.

Questions or Assistance

If you…

  • Have any questions about RCR requirements;
  • Would like assistance developing a course that meets NIH RCR requirements or would like ORI to spread the word about your RCR course; or
  • Need a subject matter expert from the Office of Research Integrity to talk about conflict of interest, human or animal subject research, or research misconduct as part of a class or as part of an RCR course