Where to Go for Help in Research Integrity Disputes

Where to Go for Help in Research Integrity Disputes
It is inevitable that you will encounter ethical challenges in the process of carrying out your research project. The most important thing to do when these situations arise is not to blindly react but to take time out to think through the issues as dispassionately as possible so you can make an informed decision with which you will be able to live now and in the future. In order to do this, it is important to know where you can go for information. Your first source should be your research advisor as he/she is most likely to understand not only the issues but the unique nature of the situation involved and therefore he/she should be in the best position to give you accurate information and thoughtful advice. However, if your issue involves your advisor, it is important to know where else you can go for help. Some departments have an ombudsman specifically for this purpose. In other departments, your undergraduate majors advisor may perform this function. If neither of these individuals can provide assistance, then you should consider consulting the Chair or Department Head.

Your Advisers

The first place you should go if at all possible is to your direct supervisor. He/she is likely in the best position to understand the problem and to provide direct assistance if you need it.

Sometimes students are uncertain about whether to and how to approach their research advisors when they have questions about ethics and research conduct. If you need help, then the best advice is to seek it out. So, if you see or have a problem, it is wise to consult your advisor, who likely has more experience and can at least advise you concerning where you should go for assistance.

That said be sure to think through the situation before you approach your advisor. It is important to understand that depending on the nature of the problem (if it involves criminal activity, harassment, etc.), your advisor may be obligated to take certain actions based on the information you provide him/her. Don’t assume that your advisor can or will keep your information confidential. Legal (his/her employer) and moral obligations may supersede his/her ability to keep your discussion confidential.


It is always wisest to try to work within the system at your workplace before going outside for help. If you are working at a college or university, start your discussions with your research advisor (discussed above), be sure to document all your conversations in writing. If you are not satisfied with your advisor’s response or if your dispute is with your advisor then consult someone in your department. Some departments have an ombudsman to whom you can go when disputes concerning research integrity arise. If you aren’t able to resolve the issues within your department, then consider bringing your case to your college or university’s committee on scientific integrity or the Dean of your college (at a graduate research university). You should be able to identify the appropriate person by consulting your college, university, or company’s website. As a last resort, if your research is federally funded by either the National Institutes of Health or by the National Science Foundation you can contact the Office of Research Integrity or the Office of the Inspector General, respectively.