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RCR Resources


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RCR Symposia

Rigor and Reproducibility: 2017 Winter Symposium on RCR

The Winter 2017 Symposium on Responsible Conduct of Research was held January 23, 2017 in Warren Hall. The symposium focused on ethical issues regarding rigor and reproducibility in research, and promoted discussion of the topic using the case study method. The topic of rigor and reproducibility in research was particularly timely and critical, as we have seen an increased focus by sponsors, journals, and the public on ensuring that researchers follow and document how their scientific design, methods, and reporting meet the highest standards of integrity and rigor.

About 200 students, faculty and staff participated in the symposium. Dr. Nozomi Nishimura, Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering, was the academic lead for this symposium, which also featured a keynote address by Dr. Michael G. Kaplitt, Professor and Vice Chair of Research in Neurological Surgery, and Director of Movement Disorders and Pain at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The case studies contained two different scenarios involving a hypothetical researcher, and highlighted considerations and dilemmas that researchers might face in the course of doing their research. One case study dealt with the tricky issue of “P-hacking” which occurs when researchers collect data or conduct statistical analyses to yield a target result, and for non- significant results to become significant. The second case described a scenario in which a student designed a study with live animals and got encouraging results, but it became apparent that in the design and conduct of his experiments he had ignored several important variables that may have had an effect on the outcome.

After a brief welcome from Andrew Bass (Professor, Neurobiology and Behavior; Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research), Dr. Mike Kaplitt spoke about the challenges in translational research and brought attention to how a lack of rigor in pre-clinical studies can have real, substantial, and negative implications for clinical studies directly affecting human health. Dr. Nishimura then set up the groundwork for the case studies that were to be discussed. After a short break, participants broke into smaller groups for discussion. The discussion groups were led by a faculty member and a graduate student from across graduate fields in the life sciences.

The individual groups considered many questions in the context of each of the cases and sent in responses to two questions from the case studies, which were displayed at the final wrap-up discussion session. In this wrap-up session, Dr. Nishimura led a discussion with faculty and students about the principles and practical considerations to ensure rigor and reproducibility in life sciences research.

Discussion materials for the symposium are available here https://www.oria.cornell.edu/rcr/RCRSymposium2017.htm. If you would like to organize a case discussion on this topic in your research group, you may use the case studies and resources provided here, or contact the Cornell’s RCR office for assistance and guidance at rcr@cornell.edu.

Data Management: 2016 Summer Undergraduate Workshop on RCR

The 2016 Summer Undergraduate Workshop on Responsible Conduct of Research took place on Tuesday, June 21 in Uris Hall Auditorium. This event focused on Data Acquisition, Management and Interpretation in the Life Sciences. Nearly 100 people attended including Cornell students and other students from all over the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

The program began with an introduction and overview of research ethics for undergraduates given by Colleen Kearns, Associate Director of Undergraduate Research in the Office of Undergraduate Biology. Attendees broke into small discussion groups to discuss two case studies. [links at the bottom of this summary]

Following the case study discussion the attendees returned to the auditorium for a presentation by Wendy Kozlowski, Data Curation Specialist with the Cornell University Library, on the availability and capabilities of various electronic laboratory notebook software programs (ELNs) for tracking, organizing, and managing different types of data between lab partners.

A panel discussion followed, moderated by: Laurel Southard, Director of the Cornell Office of Undergraduate Research, Bill Brown, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics; Martha Field, Senior Research Associate in the Division of Nutritional Sciences; Cynthia Liefer, Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Wendy Kozlowski, Data Curation Specialist at the Cornell Library. Panelists addressed questions raised during small group breakout sessions including when it may or may not be appropriate to clarify images or “clean up” data, discard outliers, or otherwise modify data appearance or presentation. Panelists agreed on the necessity of keeping comprehensive, accurate and well organized research records. Other questions included: Is more experimental replication a good counterbalance for outliers? Can problems with results be resolved by changing experimental design? Can a data set be tested to see if something truly is an outlier, or can a different method be used to test a research question? Are technical or biological replicates more appropriate to address a given problem? Should statistical tools be used to identify or remove certain data points as long as the outliers are mentioned in the analysis? Carefully planning an experiment can also head off some common problems with data interpretation. Panelists also mentioned the growing importance of journal guidelines for publication and the increasing emphasis on rigor and reproducibility of results. Finally the discussion brought home to young researchers the importance of trying to find good teaching, mentoring and supervision in lab groups, as well as a lab culture that values openness and discussion of these issues-since many decisions made about data management and analysis are personal judgments. Panelists agreed that the ability to make good judgments comes with training and experience.

Amita Verma, Director of the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance, gave closing remarks highlighting the individual responsibility of the researcher for making appropriate decisions. She mentioned that in learning to address questions of how to conduct research ethically and responsibly, finding good mentorship is extremely important.

The enthusiasm of the organizers, panel, students, and discussion group leaders contributed to a thought-provoking event that hopefully left many young researchers with food for thought regarding ways to address common problems in collection, management, and analysis of research data.

Case Studies

Plagiarism: 2016 Winter Symposium on RCR

The Winter 2016 RCR Symposium was held on January 25, 2015 in Uris Hall Auditorium on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca New York. The symposium focused on the ethical issues related to plagiarism. About 170 students, faculty and staff participated in the symposium. As in prior symposia (2012, 2014, 2015), we used the case study method to engage participants in discussion. The format of this year's symposium was as follows: an introduction to all participants by the faculty member who serves as the academic lead, followed by small break out discussion sessions, and then a final panel discussion for all participants.

The case study for discussion contained two different scenarios involving hypothetical researchers to highlight different considerations and realistic issues related to the challenges in defining plagiarism in the various research contexts - grant proposals, reviews of manuscripts, type of information being considered, expectations of collaborators - that make these determinations tricky, can potentially induce conflict and could result in significant reputational harm to researchers. After a brief welcome from Professor Andrew Bass (Neurobiology and Behavior; Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research), Professor Maurine Linder (Chair, Molecular Medicine) gave an introduction to the basic principles of plagiarism and the case scenarios to be discussed. After a short break, participants broke into smaller groups for discussion. Each discussion group of 6-12 students was led by a faculty member and a graduate student from across many different graduate fields in the life sciences.

The individual groups considered many questions in the context of each of the cases, including: What are the ethical considerations that underlie plagiarism decisions? What are the criteria typically used in determining whether plagiarism has occurred? What are the obligations from reviewers when they are reviewing manuscripts for publication? Is self-plagiarism a thing and if so, when? If conflicts about plagiarism do arise, what are the available paths to resolve those conflicts? At the conclusion of the discussion, each group wrote one or two questions that they felt should be taken up at the panel discussion.

The panel discussion was moderated by Richard Cerione (Goldwin Smith Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, Departments of Molecular Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine and Chemistry and Chemical Biology, College of Arts and Sciences). Other panelists were Professor Barbara Baird (Horace White Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, College of Arts and Sciences). Robert Oswald (Professor, Department of Molecular Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine), Maureen Hanson (Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor, Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), and Maurine Linder (Professor and Chair, Department of Molecular Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine). Professor Jeffrey Benovic (Professor and Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Thomas Jefferson University Medical School, Associate Editor of the ACS Journal Biochemistry) was also invited to participate in the panel but unable to join the panel due to inclement weather. The panelists considered many of the questions posted by the attendees. Faculty and Students in the audience participated in the discussion as well.

The symposium closed with a note of thanks from the organizers and a request by Professor Linder for students to take the discussions back to their research groups and engage in more in-depth discussions of policy and practice with their research groups and their faculty mentors.

Discussion materials for the symposium are available here. If you would like to organize a case discussion on this topic in your research group, you may use the case studies and resources provided here and or contact the Cornell's RCR office for assistance and guidance.

Case Studies: Plagiarism

Slides from Opening Lecture

Opening Lecture Video

Panel Discussion Video

List of Resources Related to Plagiarism

Ethical Issues in Ethnographic Research: 2015 Spring Symposium on RCR

The Spring 2015 Symposium on Responsible Conduct of Research was held on April 10th, 2015 in Clark Hall’s Auditorium and Bethe Lecture Room. Faculty members Adam Smith (Professor and Chair of Anthropology), Paul Nadasdy (Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies), and Erick White (Visiting Professor of South and Southeast Asian Religions) helped develop the format and select topics of discussion for the event.

The symposium, which was focused on ethical questions around maintaining confidentiality of research participants in ethnographic research, used two case studies that highlighted very different considerations for researchers. Case 1: "Legal Requests for Confidential Data from Research Field Notes" presented the quandary of a researcher who promises confidentiality to her teenage research participants but is asked by police to turn over field notes as part of a criminal investigation. Case 2: "Anonymity Declined" describes a situation where a researcher anonymized the identities of research subjects in her ethnography, but discovers afterward that the majority of them were not happy with remaining anonymous.

Following a short welcome presentation by Adam Smith, the participants broke into two small groups to discuss the case studies. Small group discussions were led by Marina Welker (Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies) and Paul Nadasdy. Discussions touched upon many aspects of each case. Participants and discussion leaders brought up possible consequences to both researchers and participants; ethical obligations of the protagonists in each case; upon what professional norms and values ethical obligations were based; and who stakeholders were in each situation. Numerous questions arose during discussion. As a default strategy to protect participants, is providing anonymity always the best idea in every case? Are there other ways ethnographic researchers can reasonably protect the rights of their research participants? Is it possible to truly guarantee confidentiality to participants?

After small group discussions, the participants reconvened for a panel discussion with faculty who had expertise with this area of research. Adam Smith moderated the discussion and posed issues raised in the discussion groups to panelists Erick White, Elaine Wethington (Professor of Human Development and Co-Director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging), Shannon Gleeson (Associate Professor of Labor Relations, Law and History) and Steven Jackson (Associate Professor of Information Science and Director of Graduate Studies for Information Science). The panelists brought unique perspectives to the discussion as well as varying experiences with ethnographic research, and added illustrative examples drawn from their experiences in the field. The closing discussions left participants with a greater appreciation both for the complexity of the ethical issues raised and the importance of carefully considering the ethics of anonymity during research design.

Case Studies: Ethnographic Research

Authorship: 2015 Winter Symposium on RCR

The Winter 2015 Symposium on Responsible Conduct of Research was held January 16, 2015 in Uris Hall Auditorium. The symposium focused on ethical issues around authorship, and promoted discussion of authorship using the case study method. About 200 students, faculty and staff participated in the symposium. The format of this year's symposium was similar to the one from last year: an introduction by the faculty member who serves as the Academic Lead, small break out discussion sessions, followed by a panel discussion.

The case study for discussion contained three different scenarios involving a hypothetical researcher to highlight different considerations regarding authorship decisions and realistic issues related to the power inequity between advisor and students and between collaborators that make these decisions tricky and can potentially induce conflict. After a brief welcome from Andrew Bass (Professor, Neurobiology and Behavior; Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research), Professor Volker Vogt (Molecular Biology and Genetics) gave an introduction to the basic principles of authorship and the case scenarios to be discussed. After a short break, participants broke into smaller groups for discussion. Each discussion group was led by a faculty member and a graduate student from across many different graduate fields in the life sciences.

The individual groups considered many questions in the context of each of the cases, including: What are the ethical considerations that underlie authorship decisions? What are the criteria typically used in making authorship decisions? In a list of authors, what is the significance of the order of names in the list? How can conflicts regarding authorship be avoided? If conflicts about authorship do arise, what are the available paths to resolve those conflicts?

In focusing on why an action in each scenario might be considered acceptable or unacceptable, discussion group members considered the following factors: Who has a stake in the action? What might be the consequences of the action? What might be the obligations of the protagonist? What professional norms and values might give rise to those obligations?

At the conclusion of the discussion each group wrote some questions that they felt should be taken up at the panel discussion. The panel discussion was moderated by Professor Tony Bretscher,(Professor, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology). Other panelists were Jan Allen (Associate Dean, Academic and Student Affairs, Graduate School), Yimon Aye (Assistant Professor, Chemistry & Chemical Biology), Maggie Gustafson (Graduate Student, Field of Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology), Mark Roberson (Professor and Chair, Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine) and Charles Walcott (Professor Emeritus, Neurobiology and Behavior; University Ombudsman) The panelists considered many of the questions posted by the attendees. Faculty and Students in the audience participated in the discussion as well.

The symposium closed with a note of thanks from the organizers and a request by Professor Volker Vogt for students to take the discussions back to their research groups and engage in more in-depth discussions of policy and practice with their research groups and their faculty mentors.

Discussion materials for the symposium are available below. If you would like to organize a case discussion on this topic in your research group, you may use the case studies and resources provided here and (or) contact the Cornell's RCR office for assistance and guidance.

Case Studies: Authorship

2015 RCR Symposium Opening Speeches

2015 RCR Symposium Panel Discussion and Closing Speeches

Resources on Authorship

Undergraduate Students in Biology: 2014 Summer Symposium on RCR

The first Summer Undergraduate RCR Symposium was held on June 16, 2014. The event was sponsored by the Summer Institute of Life Sciences (SILS) and co-sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Biology and the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA). The Faculty Advisor was Volker Vogt, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics.

Over one hundred and twenty-five attendees participated in the event. About one hundred of the attendees were undergraduate students either at Cornell or from another college doing an internship or REU at Cornell over the summer. We discussed three short cases on the following topics:

Data management and manipulation: How do you decide what data points to include in writing up your conclusions? To what degree or when is it allowable to exclude outlier points? To what degree is it ethical (and to what degree permissible by journals) to "massage" data, for example by electronically reducing background on images or by showing only some fraction of a gel profile, in order to make the conclusions you want to draw more clear? How do ethical considerations impact your decisions on these issues?

Data and notebook ownership: Who "owns" the data that you generated? What does "ownership" mean, and what are the ethical considerations in thinking about this issue? How can disagreements about ownership be resolved?

The event began with a registration and breakfast. After an introduction by Ms. Colleen Kearns from the Office of Undergraduate Biology, Professor Volker Vogt gave a short talk introducing the cases and the importance of Responsible Conduct of Research. After the introduction, groups of 10-12 students discussed the cases in breakout sessions facilitated by graduate students and some faculty/staff. Afterwards a panel comprised of staff, students and faculty answered questions from the students and provided additional perspective on the issues raised by the cases. The event ended with closing comments by Ms. Amita Verma. Pizza was served to the students afterwards.

2014 Winter Symposium on RCR

The second Symposium on Responsible Conduct in Research for students in the Life Sciences and Engineering was held on January 17, 2014, under the academic leadership of Professor Kathleen Rasmussen, Professor of Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and International Professor of Nutritional Science at Cornell. Professor Rasmussen and the Cornell Faculty Steering Committee for RCR jointly developed the topic and format of the symposium. The symposium focused on the issues related to conducting research with human subjects including research with biomaterials obtained from human subjects, using the case study "Use of genetic materials in the case of Havasupai Tribe."

Over one hundred and twenty graduate students and over 15 faculty members participated in the symposium. Professor Rasmussen started the symposium by providing an overview of the information about the case, including the timeline, the individuals involved, the debate, the legal and ethical issues raised, and the final outcome of the controversy. After this presentation, the students and faculty broke into small groups of 10-12, with a faculty member and a graduate student as discussion leaders. Each group discussed two out of the 10 questions posed about various ethical questions related to the case, and the issues it raised for their own work at Cornell. After the small group discussions, the entire group reconvened for a panel discussion with individuals who had expertise in the various aspects of the case, and moderated by Professor Rasmussen. The panelists were Dr. Angela Gonzalez (Associate Professor, Development Sociology), whose research interests include research with Native American communities; Dr. Carol Devine (Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences; Chair, Institutional Review Board); Ms. Nora Salvatore (Assistant University Counsel); and Dr. Andrew Clark (Professor, Molecular Biology and Genetics). Each group presented their responses to the questions that were posed to their group, and the panelists provided additional perspectives and clarifications on the topic.

The symposium ended with closing comments from Amita Verma, the Director of the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance. Following the symposium, a reception was held for the attending students and faculty.

2012 Winter Symposium on RCR

On January 10, 2012, the first Cornell Responsible Conduct in Research symposium for students in the Life Sciences and Engineering was held. The symposium was developed and planned in the fall of 2011 by Professor Andy Bass (Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research), Tilman Baumstark (Assistant Dean for Professional Development in the Graduate School), Professor Mark Robertson (Chair, Department of Biomedical Sciences), Professor Robert Oswald (Pharmacology), and Park Doing (Lecturer, Bovay Program in Engineering Ethics). One-hundred and thirty graduate students and several faculty members participated in the symposium. At the start of the symposium, Park Doing presented the case of the Harvard researcher Marc Hauser, who resigned from Harvard after questions were raised about his practices by students in his own research group and an investigation was conducted by Harvard that found him "solely responsible" for eight instances of misconduct in both published and unpublished research. After this presentation, the students and faculty broke into small groups of 8-9 and discussed both the case and the issues it raised for their own work at Cornell. After the small group discussions, the entire group reconvened and discussed the conclusions of each group in a session moderated by Park Doing and Mark Robertson. At the end of the symposium, Assistant Dean Baumstark outlined for the students the channels available to them at Cornell in order to report research misconduct. After the symposium, a reception was held where students and faculty could talk and interact informally.

In-class Lectures and Other Workshops

The following seminars and workshops on RCR were recently organized:

  • Graduate Seminar at the Johnson Graduate School of Management
  • Graduate Seminar at the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design
  • Incoming Graduate Students at the College of Engineering
  • Incoming Class of Rawlings Presidential Scholars
  • Summer 2014: Investigative Biology

The following seminars and workshops on RCR are planned for the current academic year:

  • Graduate Seminar at the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design
  • Fall 2014: Investigative Biology
  • Fall 2014: Seminar in Biophysics
  • Faculty workshop offered by the Center for Excellence in Teaching

Please contact the RCR office at rcr@cornell.edu if you are interested in organizing a seminar or workshop on RCR for your class, graduate seminar, lab group or another group of researchers.

Other Research Ethics Training at Cornell

Several other resources and training opportunities on research ethics are also available for members of the Cornell community: