In the run-up to the publication of Research Integrity (Australian edition), we sat down with Susan O’Brien, the Adapting Author of the programme, and asked her about her experiences with the subject, research integrity today and it’s Australian context, and her thoughts on the new upcoming programme.
Dr Susan O’Brien is currently Program Manager for Research Management Business Transformation, with five years’ experience as the Manager of the Office of Research Integrity, at the University of Queensland. Susan was Deputy Chair of the Better Practice Guides Working Group in association with the review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2018). She has worked as a researcher in plant biology and in research management in the not-for-profit and university sectors.
How did you come to specialise in the area of research integrity?
My career started with a PhD in plant biology from the University of Melbourne and a post-doctoral fellowship at CSIRO. From there I morphed into a research management career via the Leukaemia Foundation Australia where I administered a peer-reviewed National Research Program for blood cancer for five years before moving to The University of Queensland (UQ). At UQ my roles included managing a medical research program and leading the biomedical initiatives team in our Office of Sponsored Research before I applied for the role of managing the Office of Research Integrity. Because I had such a varied research-related career I had a very good overview of research from the perspective of a researcher, research manager and research administrator. It has been both challenging and fascinating.
What are the most pressing research integrity challenges for institutions today?
The life of a researcher is very full. Most have both research and teaching responsibilities. One of the biggest challenges for institutions is finding ways to engage with researchers in ensuring they have a clear understanding of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research in conjunction with local policies and expectations. We need to help researchers to be confident in conducting their own research in line with the Code and institutional policies, and confident in mentoring their students and other research staff so that they too are confident. Research conducted well is good research. And researchers confident in their understanding of the good conduct of research will ensure an institution also has confidence in them and their research outputs.
What excites you about working on a new version of our Research Integrity programme?
I am excited because this will be a truly Australian adaptation of the programme and fully reflects the new, principles based Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. It is a privilege to be involved in developing an online learning tool for Australian researchers. Helping researchers understand the Code and their responsibilities is one of the best ways to ensure excellence in research integrity in our institutions.
How are you integrating the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct for Research into the Research Integrity programme?
The first two modules ‘The Responsible Conduct of Research’ and ‘When things go wrong: Breaches of the Code’ are completely based around the revised Code and the associated Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. This will ensure all those taking these modules will have a clear understanding of the principles and responsibilities set out in the Code. The following six modules on Planning Your Research, Managing and Recording your Research, Data Selection, Analysis and Presentation, Scholarly Publication, Professional Responsibilities, Communication and Social Responsibility have all been adapted for Australian context and idiom. Most importantly the principles and responsibilities of the Code are integrated into each of these modules reinforcing researchers knowledge and understanding of the Code.
What is the best piece of advice you give to young academics when it comes to research integrity?
I always say to young academics when delivering training that if you follow the Code and your local institutional policies and ask for help when you are unsure of what to do you will not only avoid unnecessary difficulties but you will be a great colleague and confident that you have conducted your research well and to the best of your abilities. The eight principles of the Code are principles to live by as a researcher and will always stand you in good stead.
Research Integrity identifies the principles and responsibilities required of every researcher throughout the research process, from planning through to publication, providing practical advice on dealing with complex issues.