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Knowing Our Partners: Survey of RCR Coordinators and RIOs

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The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) works closely with Research Integrity Officers (RIOs) at institutions handling allegations of research misconduct involving biomedical or behavioral research or research training supported by the Public Health Service (PHS).  Likewise, ORI provides training and educational materials for institutional Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Coordinators who play a role in assuring that their research institution fosters a research environment that promotes the responsible conduct of research and discourages misconduct.

In early 2017, ORI surveyed a random sample of RCR Coordinators and RIOs (535 in each group, selected from institutions that have an ORI assurance) to better understand their backgrounds, roles, and responsibilities. Participants were limited to individuals representing institutes of higher education; research organizations; institutes, foundation or laboratories; and other health, human resources, and environmental service organizations. The two groups received slightly different surveys, with questions tailored to their specific activities.

Who are the RCR Coordinators and RIOs?

Of the 535 RCR Coordinators chosen for the sample, half (275) opened the email directing them to the survey link, and 135 responded to the survey, yielding a 25 percent response rate. Of the 535 RIOs chosen for the sample, half (285) opened the email directing them to the survey link, and 113 responded to the survey, yielding a 21 percent response rate.

Here is what we learned about RCR Coordinators:

  • 62% have the title of Research or Compliance Administrator
  • 9% are faculty members
  • 5% are academic administrators
  • 23% are something “other” (e.g., grants administrator, program manager, chief scientific officer, or executive director)

Among RIOs:

  • 58% are Research or Compliance Administrators
  • 12% are faculty members
  • 10% are academic administrators
  • 20% are something “other”

These are relatively experienced professionals—41% of RCR Coordinators and 35% of RIOs have served in that role for more than six years. Moreover, the survey participants are highly educated: 44% of RCR coordinators and 58% of RIOs hold a Ph.D., M.D., D.V.M., or D.O. In each group, one in four has a master’s degree. Other degrees include baccalaureates and J.D.s.

Importantly, given the breadth of research under their purview, these professionals come from diverse educational backgrounds (see Figure):

  • 43% of RCR Coordinators and 58% of RIOs come from a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) field
  • 21% of RCR Coordinators and 14% of RIOs come from the Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • 13% of RIOs are from the Liberal Arts/Humanities
  • each group had a sprinkling of individuals with a background in law
  • among those who chose “other” are individuals with backgrounds in business, accounting, finance, health care administration, health science, education, public health, business, and ethics

Institutional Roles

ORI was curious about the primary roles these professionals play at their institutions. The survey showed that a majority (60%) of RCR Coordinators are responsible for meeting the needs of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy on RCR instruction for their institution’s trainees. However, only 30 percent are currently responsible for teaching RCR courses.

In comparison, a majority of RIOs participate in RCR instruction at their respective institutions (51% “a great deal” or “a moderate amount,” 26% “occasionally,” 23% “rarely” or “never”).

ORI was particularly interested in the level of survey participants’ involvement with research misconduct assessments, inquiries, and investigations. Overall, the survey found that participants are not often involved in such activities. Only 12 of 107 participants (11%) that stated they currently have an ongoing research misconduct assessment, inquiry, or investigation that involves PHS funding. Likewise, a clear majority of participants (81%) said that their institution has fewer than one investigation or inquiry each year, while only two participants had more than four per year. Three participants (3%) stated that they did not know how many investigations or inquiries their institution has per year. In some ways, these findings are reassuring, in that they reflect the relatively low incidence of potential or actual misconduct cases. However, the findings also reflect the need for continuous training and refresher courses for RIOs who might not encounter many cases in a given year to keep them well versed in and aware of evolving issues.

In summary, even though this was a nonscientific survey, the results give us a window into the communities of professionals who are so essential to ORI’s mission and to ensuring integrity in research. ORI plans to use these findings as we consider new opportunities for training, conferences, and ongoing communications with our partners in the field. ORI thanks the institutional officials who took the time to complete the survey!

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