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1. Introduction

The University of Cambridge Research Integrity Advisory Panel provides informal guidance on research integrity and good research practice.  Queries are welcomed from staff and students that are affiliated with the University of Cambridge. The Panel is designed to provide expert and discipline specific advice and support on a range of research integrity and other related matters, including: best practice and responsible conduct in research, research ethics concerns, questions regarding research misconduct and questionable research practices and how best to promote good practice in research.


2. Role of the Panel Member

The primary role of a research integrity advisory Panel member is to provide informal guidance to staff and students about good research practice and research integrity, and to support those who may be considering whether to make an allegation of research misconduct. The Panel member will discuss the query and explain the options for taking action.

While each query is taken case-by-case, a Panel member might act in one or more of the following ways when handling a query:

  1. Listening to the questions or concerns raised and exploring them in the context of best practice guidance and University/discipline-specific policy;
  2. Asking questions to clarify the query or requesting additional information;
  3. Providing guidance on good research practice and the responsible conduct of research;
  4. Providing guidance on discipline-specific and University policies and procedures;
  5. Helping individuals understand the options open to them;
  6. Explaining how an individual would go about making a formal allegation of research misconduct in accordance with the University’s policy;
  7. Advising on further sources of support (e.g. Dignity at Work service if the query involves harassment as part of the concern).

The role of a Panel member does not involve:

  1. Providing a decision or view as to whether research misconduct has been committed in a particular case;
  2. Giving legal or HR advice;
  3. Offering ongoing emotional support;
  4. Acting on the individual’s behalf or attending meetings with them;
  5. Contacting the person who is the subject of a potential allegation of research misconduct based on a query

Panel members will be supported in these responsibilities by the central research governance and integrity team. The research governance and integrity team, which is part of the Cambridge Research Office, will provide administrative assistance to the Research Integrity Advisory Panel.

Researchers acting in their role as a Panel member do so in a guidance capacity. They should not attempt to personally investigate any allegations of misconduct or other concerns.  

Where appropriate, Panel members may be asked (but not be required) to participate as members of investigatory panels under the University’s Misconduct in Research Policy and to support Heads of Department with authorship disputes. The Panel member cannot be involved in any formal investigation or process that follows on from their discussion with an individual who sought guidance from the Panel (see section 4 on conflicts of interest).


3.  Procedures

3.1 Method of Working:

Staff or students affiliated with the University may contact the Research Integrity Advisory Panel by emailing from their university e-mail address or with their name and department details. In doing so, they should also provide some brief details about their query in the email body. The message is received by the research governance and integrity team who will act in one of the following ways:

  1. Explain why the query does not fall within the remit of the research integrity advisory panel and suggest other support services that might be able to assist;
  2. Help with straightforward queries without recourse to the Panel;
  3. Refer the query to an appropriate Panel member ensuring there are no conflicts of interest
  4. Refer to query to an appropriate Panel member ensuring there are no conflicts of interest and advise that a note-taker attend the meeting where the query appears to relate to research misconduct or a complex issue

If the query is referred to a Panel member, the Panel member will then contact the individual to arrange a meeting to discuss his or her research integrity concern (as outlined above in section 2). In some cases, both parties may prefer to discuss the query by phone or e-mail rather than meeting in person or video call. It is at the discretion of the Panel member whether another meeting to discuss the query is required. In most cases, it is expected that a single one-to-one meeting will suffice and should take approximately 60-90 minutes depending on the case.  

The individual may wish to bring a work colleague to the meeting and should notify the Panel member in advance.  It is at the discretion of the Panel member whether they may wish to invite another Panel Member to the meeting. This may be appropriate for complex queries that would benefit for a second perspective.

If the initial query appears to involve a complex matter or matters relating to research misconduct, the Panel member will be encouraged to request that a member of the research governance and integrity team attend the meeting in a note-taking capacity. The role of note-taker would be to ensure an accurate record of the meeting and how the query was handled.

3.2 Confidentiality

To ensure there is no professional or social stigma attached to researchers seeking assistance from the Panel, Panel members are generally expected to keep all queries and discussions private. Although confidentiality is respected, there are some instances where the Panel Member may need to share some information.

Situations include:

  • Serious research misconduct allegation;
  • Risk or harm to people and/or animals or serious harm to the environment;
  • Evidence of improper storage of human tissue or personal data;
  • Criminal activity;
  • Breaches of regulatory standards for research;
  • A conflict of interest requiring the panel member to recuse him or herself.

In most cases, the Panel Member will ask permission from the individual to share information in confidence with other persons or relevant organisations (e.g. to seek an expert opinion on the matter). Any subsequent discussions would be kept discreet and information would be limited to those who have a need to know and only to the extent necessary.

In exceptional cases, for instance where the Panel member believes they have a legal obligation, the Panel member may report information to, or seek advice from, appropriate external authorities. In doing so, the Panel member would liaise with the Research Governance and Integrity Officer and inform the individual who sought advice of the actions being taken and why.

Additionally, the University reserves the right to disclose details of guidance given by Panel member(s) if that guidance is later misrepresented. In doing so, permission would be sought from the Panel member and any disclosures would only be made as necessary and relevant to provide clarity on the matter.

Although the identities of Panel Members will not be made publically available online, Panel members are free to disclose their role should they wish.

3.3 Anonymity

Queries to the Research Integrity Advisory Panel are not anonymous.  A name and contact details must be provided to the research integrity governance and integrity team who receive the query to confirm that the individual is affiliated with the University. Upon request, the research governance and integrity team may be able to provide only non-identifying information to the Panel member and the query could then be discussed by phone.

3.4 Recordkeeping and Usage

At their discretion, Panel members may report some aggregated data or generalised information about queries to the research governance and integrity team. To preserve privacy of the individuals, this information will be reported anonymously via a survey. The research governance and integrity team will not be aware of which Panel member has reported information and will not able to relate the reported information to specific queries.

Similarly, staff or students who consult the Research Integrity Advisory Panel will also be given the option to provide comments should they wish. They will be encouraged to provide only anonymous information. Only the research governance and integrity team will receive these comments. Individual comments will not be shared outside the research governance and integrity team, whereas aggregated information may be shared with Panel Members and included in an annual report to University Research Ethics Committee and Research Policy Committee detailing the work of the Panel.

With this information, the research governance and integrity team can better understand the type of queries and concerns received and thereby improve or develop existing training courses, resources and guidance for overall benefit.

3.3 Workload

A Panel Member is normally not expected to contribute more than 1-2 days of their time a year to handle queries (in addition to a half-day for training every year). The demand on a Panel Member’s time is variable. During most terms, a Panel Member may not handle any queries, but on rare occasions there might be more significant demands.

Panel Members that contribute more will have this taken into account in future years to ensure an equity in division of the tasks.  The research governance and integrity team will monitor the workload of individual Panel Members to ensure no individual is overburdened. As such, any Panel member that receives a query directly from a researcher is requested to report these to the research governance and integrity team who may refer the query to an alternative Panel member depending on workload and expertise.


4. Conflict of interest

If any potential or actual conflicts of interest are raised regarding a query, the research governance and integrity team will refer the query to another Panel Member. The Panel Member who had the conflict of interest would not be involved in the query any further and would not be made aware of any information.

Where Panel Members are asked to participate as members of investigatory panels under the University’s Misconduct in Research Policy, they can only participate if they were not previously involved in a query concerning the matter and do not otherwise have a conflict of interest.


5. Recruitment and training

Panel Members will be recruited in consultation with the Schools. Initial recruitment will be via an advertisement circulated through the Schools and also through the Postdoctoral Academy. Subsequent recruitment of volunteers will take place annually through circulation of an advert and also via nominations from present or resigning panel members.  Reasonable efforts shall be made to ensure that volunteers are selected from a range of career stages and that at least one volunteer from each School should be an early career researcher.

Upon joining the Research Integrity Advisory Panel, Panel members are expected to participate in a training session within six months. A half-day training session will be held annually to share best practice amongst Panel members and note any significant and/or frequent issues raised in queries. The training session will be developed and delivered with assistance from UK Research Integrity Office who have experience in training their own advisors. This will include a short briefing session on University support services.

5.1 Early Career Researchers

Early career researchers are particularly encouraged to serve on the Research Integrity Advisory Panel. It is recognised that a two year commitment may not be feasible for researchers on short fixed-term contracts; as such, early career researchers may elect to serve only one year, but are welcome to consider reappointment for a second year.

It is recommended, but not required, that early career researchers should have one years’ research experience post-PhD and also a years’ research experience at the University of Cambridge prior to appointment. Training and support will be provided.


6.  Advertisement

The Research Integrity Advisory Panel will be advertised to staff and students at the University in several ways.  A dedicated webpage on the research integrity website will contain all information, including the Terms of Reference, Procedures and guidance documents etc. The Panel will also be highlighted in postdoctoral inductions and research integrity training courses. An advertisement will be circulated through the Schools and the Postdoctoral Academy on an annual basis.  


7.  Complaints

Any individuals wishing to raise a complaint concerning the actions of a Panel member may do so via the research governance and integrity officer who can assess the nature of the complainant and advise on the appropriate process/policy to handle the matter. As appropriate, the research governance and integrity team may liaise with Human Resources and the Head of Department as relevant.

Upon joining the Panel, all Panel members must agree to adhere to the highest standards of integrity, objectivity and professionalism set out in the Code of Conduct for Panel members. Panel members who fail to uphold these standards may be requested to step down from the role prior to the end of their appointment.