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Research integrity counsellors started work at the University of Tartu

At the beginning of April, research integrity counsellors started work at each faculty of the University of Tartu. They offer advice and support for university members who have questions about adhering to the principles of research integrity or suspect that research integrity has been violated.

At the beginning of the year, the University of Tartu senate approved the Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, according to which each faculty of the university has at least one research integrity counsellor. The counsellors are appointed by the deans of the faculties and their immediate supervisor is the head of the Centre for Ethics. Such an organisation of work ensures the independence of the faculty’s research integrity counsellor and fosters cooperation with the counsellors of other faculties as well as with the Centre for Ethics.

The Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity state that “the research integrity counsellor must be an academically recognised researcher competent in research ethics”. Research integrity counsellors of the UT are: Associate Professor of Practical Philosophy Kadri Simm in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology Kairi Kreegipuu in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Visiting Associate Professor of the Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine Andres Soosaar in the Faculty of Medicine, and Associate Professor in Mathematical Finance Raul Kangro in the Faculty of Science and Technology.

Counsellors help bring clarity

Research integrity counsellors are available for all university members and can be approached with different questions on research ethics. In the research integrity counsellor, university members can find a reliable partner who gives advice and help in various questions.

The counsellors are the first point of contact in their faculty in questions regarding a person’s own research as well as suspicions of violation of research integrity. The counsellors do not solve the cases themselves but help to understand whether the suspicion is founded and give advice on the actions to take in case of suspicion. If necessary, the research integrity counsellor helps to compile a complaint or advises the person to contact the Human Resources Office or the academic secretary, for instance.

Broad-based support material

In November 2017, the Estonian R&D institutions and financers of research signed the Estonian Code of Conduct for Research Integrity Agreement, promising to observe the Estonian Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The task of creating detailed procedural rules for the application of the code of conduct lies with each research institution. The University of Tartu was among the first to arrive at approving the instructions for application after two years.

The Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity prepared by the University of Tartu Centre for Ethics helps to prevent and solve cases of misconduct. The instructions are broad-based; over two years, representatives of all faculties were involved in its preparation.

“With the Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, the University of Tartu aims to offer sufficient training and courses and provide counselling if the university members have questions concerning research ethics,” said Head of the Centre for Ethics Professor Margit Sutrop, who led the preparation of the document. She adds that the instructions also address work environment and the fair procedure of dealing with suspicions and complaints.

Academic Secretary of the University of Tartu Tõnis Karki says that first and foremost, the instructions help to understand how to conduct good research, whom to turn to for advice and how to voice your training needs and requests. “The first aim of the University of Tartu is to prevent violations of research integrity by sufficient training and counselling, but also to offer a clear, transparent and fair procedure for dealing with cases of violation, if necessary,” Karki explained.

Several ways to address cases

The Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity provides that the academic secretary deals with suspicions of violations. Karki emphasises that the implemented system of processing has several levels: “If you suspect that research integrity has been violated, it is advisable first to turn to the research integrity counsellor. There is one in each faculty. After this, it is possible to assess whether the suspected violation should be processed by the academic secretary or an impartial commission that is currently being formed for this purpose.

Currently, all counsellors answer the questions of university members by e-mail. There is a plan to establish regular counselling and meeting times after the end of the emergency situation. The Instructions for applying the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, the introduction of the counsellors and guidelines for contacting them are available on the university’s web page.

Further information:  Margit Sutrop, Head of UT Centre for Ethics,  +372 520 7183,  margit.sutrop@ut.ee