Spotlight on the RDF: “Appropriate practice”

In the first of an occasional series, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

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In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

The RDF  descriptor “appropriate practice” is one which is easier to define through its opposite:  academic malpractice is any activity – intentional or not – that is likely to undermine the integrity essential to scholarship and research.  Examples of academic malpractice include plagiarism and falsification/fabrication of results. 

The RDF puts appropriate practice in domain C (research governance and organisation) and sub-domain C1 (professional conduct) and the five phases of development for this descriptor are:

  1.  Understands and adheres to the rules and regulations concerning academic malpractice in the institution in which based and of professional body and funder, if appropriate.
  2. Has sufficient understanding of the rules of academic malpractice to advise peers and less experienced researchers.  Challenges malpractice.
  3. Sets expectations, advises peers and less experienced members of staff.
  4. Directs local policy, advises all staff and contributes to institutional policy.  Is involved in decisions regarding malpractice.
  5. Shapes policy and procedures of the HE sector and professional associations/bodies.

Phase 1 indicates that every PGR at UoB should ensure that they have read and understood the University of Birmingham Code of Practice for Research.  You should also find out whether your funding body and any other stakeholder organisations have a relevant document (e.g. RCUK) .

It’s possible (likely?) that in reading these documents, you may identify additional areas for your development.  A sound knowledge and understanding of Research Ethics, Research Data Management, Plagiarism, Publishing Ethics, and Health and Safety, to pick on a few key examples, is essential to ensure that you do not unwittingly find yourself committing academic malpractice.  Do make sure that you add any development needs you have identified to your development plan and discuss these with your supervisor in the context of your own research.

By the time you finish your research degree at UoB, you should be expecting to achieve phase 2 for this descriptor.  As well as reading the relevant policies and developing your knowledge in key areas, keep up to date with appropriate practice in your field through websites such as Retraction Watch.  If you work in a group environment, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to share your knowledge and experience with novice researchers.  Otherwise, you may be sharing your thoughts with your colleagues and networks via social media or at an individual level.

We hope that you won’t come across it (especially at UoB!), but should you be unfortunate enough to be in a situation where you have identified academic malpractice, or someone is encouraging you to engage in suspect practices, then you must challenge it.  Being well informed about appropriate practice will help you to confidently identify malpractice.  Policies and codes of practice will usually include information about the appropriate action to take in these circumstances, or your mentor will be able to talk through your options with you.

Have you read the UoB Code of Practice for Research?   What resources have you found useful to keep yourself informed of appropriate practice in your field?

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