Group of Eight Australia
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Module 3: Conducting Research Responsibly – Protecting Yourself, Your Research, and Your University

Topic 5.3 Hands-on or hands-off? What will work for you?

There is an obvious duty-of-care towards research students expected of the university and/or research supervisors. Less obvious is a more general duty-of-care. An emerging research leader has to provide an atmosphere where governance and compliance are respected. You can choose a hands-on approach – where you endeavour to have in place records of formal meetings and discussions, and work as a research group to ensure you comply with university policies and procedures. Alternatively, you may choose to make material available and relay an expectation that all are expected to comply. Choosing such a hands-off approach carries with it a responsibility not to distance yourself from the working of your close associates. The communal aspect of much research helps to ensure its integrity and should provide a comfortable environment to discuss both research and ethical dilemmas.

Activity 8 (Safeguarding the Murray–Darling case study: "The engineering 'star'")

What would you do and why?

Imagine this situation that has arisen in the MDB project:

One of your students holds an Australian Postgraduate Award Industry (APAI) on an ARC Linkage Project you hold with the Murray–Darling Management Trust (MDMT). She is destined to be an engineering star and has made some breakthroughs in groundwater flow that now, in the third year of the award, are truly exciting and essentially driven by her as a major investigation. She calls you from the Basin region, excited that MDMT have offered to fly her overseas where she will take some measurements and provide an assessment for company hydrologists. "It's not like there's a conflict of interest", she says. "It's all MDMT and this will be my first consultancy as they are going to pay me consultant rates". Being her supervisor, you are aware that there is a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel notification for the area she is travelling to, and rather than discuss the conflict of interest aspect you take the approach that travel is advised against. "You're not my keeper", she says. "I think you just don't want to see me get ahead. I'm going no matter what you say, and besides I will have company security guards with me". She hangs up and you find out that a company plane left an hour later.

She returns safe and happy and on the way through drops into the lab. She apologises for her outburst and is so enthusiastic about "international consultancy"  that her trip dominates the conversation over coffee with other research team members. "Guess what", you hear her say, "I'm an international go-between. One of the local hospitals had samples to send to a project in our university and when they heard I was leaving they packed them in dry ice and I brought them back. When we arrived back Customs was a breeze; I was introduced as the newest engineer and was through in no time. I didn't need to declare the samples or anything. I’ve just dropped them off to the address on the label and they were really surprised. I'm off to sleep".

You are getting ready for a very long discussion about responsible research. Before you can meet, another of your research students asks to talk to you on an important issue. This student says that what was talked about at coffee must be research misconduct. This student adds that you always seem to favour the stars in the lab and they want to take this further, not sweep it under the carpet. What will you do?

Take a few minutes to make a note of your ideas and bring them to the workshop for further discussion.

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