Course Syllabus

Responsible Conduct in Research


Course #: ID500 

CRN: 23406

Semester: C Term

Credits: 0 credit course, Pass/Fail

Timing/Location: January 16-February 25, Tuesdays and Thursdays 2-2:50 PM in Stratton Hall 304

Course Director: Rory Flinn, Ph.D.

Contact: 508-831-6360,

Registration: For the 2020 Spring RCR course, please register in Banner starting in November 2019. 



The purpose of this course is to familiarize pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees with basic ethical issues in research confronting scientists and engineers. The course has three broad learning goals for the students/postdocs taking the course: 1) To gain insights into how one can responsibly conduct research throughout their career. 2) To know how to properly address unethical situations. 3) To comprehend that new ethical issues/concerns will arise and that the best way to tackle these will be to discuss ethical situations with colleagues, seek guidance from proper channels, and routinely participate in responsible conduct in research training courses/seminars.


The course includes 11 sessions, a mixture of seminars and discussion sessions. Attendance is taken, and students missing more than 4 sessions will not pass the course. 

The seminars will delve into best practices in research and experimental design, authorship, data management and record keeping, intellectual property and ownership of data, as well as research misconduct and rigor and transparency. The discussion sessions will focus on ethical considerations for human and animal research subjects, conflict of interest, mentoring, collaborations, peer review, lab safety and research training, and environmental and societal impacts of scientific research.

The course is designed to meet or exceed all NIH requirements for instruction in the responsible conduct of research, as updated in NOT-OD-10-019 Nov. 24, 2009.

Learning Objectives:

  • Summarize the best practices to use in research and experimental design
  • Recall generally accepted practices for assigning authorship in research manuscripts as well as rights of authors
  • Comprehend the rules surrounding ownership of data and intellectual property in a university setting
  • Learn to evaluate and differentiate fair research practices from research misconduct
  • Identify obligations of a mentor and mentee as well as different types of conflicts (e.g. conflict of interest)
  • Utilize best practices when conducting research using animal or human subjects
  • Describe the merits and disadvantages of the peer review process and detail the important considerations related to collaborations
  • Summarize some of the environmental and societal impacts of scientific research
  • Identify some of the current challenges around lab safety and research training


Scientific Integrity by Francis L. Macrina, ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 4th Edition (2014).  

Location & Times:

Class sessions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-2:50 PM from January 16 - February 25, 2020.

Course Structure:  

The seminars will be led by WPI faculty and staff members, and students will be expected to participate in discussions and activities during these sessions. For the discussion sessions, students will be placed in groups and will be assigned a session to lead. The student group will develop a short presentation on the assigned topic and lead a discussion on the topics using case studies and discussion questions.


Students are encouraged to complete the suggested reading prior to attending each session. The course text book will be on reserve at the library. Individual session leaders may recommend additional readings for their session.



While no summative assessment (e.g. final exam) will be administered in this course, students will be assessed on progress towards learning objectives through participation in class session activities and discussion. Participation is required. Students in the discussion sessions will be placed in a group and will research the topic assigned in order to develop a group presentation. Students not part of the presenting group will use a rubric to evaluate group presentations.


2020 Tentative Class Schedule:

Research Misconduct, Rigor, Reproducibility, and Transparency Lecture 1/16/2019
Research Design Principles (non-discipline specific) Lecture 1/21/2019
Data Management and Record Keeping Lecture 1/23/2019
Intellectual Property, Patents, Ownership of Data Lecture 1/28/2019
Authorship, Publishing, and Peer Review Lecture 1/30/2019
Human Subjects Research Lecture 2/4/2019
Animal Subjects Research Student group presentation 2/6/2019
Collaborations, including with industry, and conflicts of interest Student group presentation 2/11/2019
Mentorship, Responsibilities of Mentors and Mentees, Power Dynamics Student group presentation 2/18/2019
Lab Safety and Research Training Student group presentation 2/20/2019
Environmental and Societal Impacts of Scientific Research, scientist as responsible member of society Student group presentation 2/25/2019



Course Summary:

Date Details