17 May 2023 – In 2022, EMBO organized and hosted four research integrity workshops, in collaboration with EMBO Members, at scientific institutes across Europe. These one-day events enable senior post-docs and principal investigators (PIs) to discuss issues around research conduct and integrity. Workshops start with an open session, which includes both talks by the host on local research policies as well as a refresher on researcher responsibilities and integrity. A closed session follows, during which participants engage with topics ranging from animal research to data management, scientific publishing and personal conduct. Although many topics are common across events, each programme is customized to suit the needs and interests of the local scientific community. EMBO policies are used as examples to engage the research community in discussing best practices.
EMBO Member Peter Sebo, Professor and Head of Laboratory at the Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, worked with EMBO Senior Policy Officer Sandra Bendiscioli to organize a workshop in Prague in November 2022. Research integrity and researcher assessment are topics close to his heart, says Sebo. “Research integrity has become a major issue. With more scientists than ever competing for limited funding, the pressure to cut corners is immense. The system has been antagonized by issues such as open access publication and the way we evaluate and value research. The workshop was timely and extremely useful,” he adds. During the Prague workshop, Bendiscioli presented current approaches to researcher assessment and their effects on research practice, while also highlighting initiatives to improve traditional approaches. “We had a very lively discussion about the consequences of current approaches to researcher assessment,” she says. “The participants discussed whether, for example, trust should play a bigger role, rather than continuous assessment, and discussed ways to ensure researchers have more time and funding for basic research.”
Although the workshop held in Zagreb, Croatia in October had a broader programme, according to participant and local organizer Ivana Ponjavić, doctoral candidate at Ruđer Bošković Institute, the topics were highly relevant. “The workshop was very interactive and informative, particularly for young PIs. We also had the opportunity to discuss improvements with our management as to how research is conducted at our institute, such as providing written clear guidelines and policies regarding lab work and publications to help improve transparency and establish a common code of conduct.”
Edvardas Golovinas, doctoral candidate at the Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre in Lithuania, participated in a workshop there in November. He says the workshop was extremely valuable, preparing him to address challenges in his work environment with confidence. “The EMBO research integrity workshop was engaging, comprehensive, and thoroughly enjoyable,” he says. “It provided us with useful tools as well as offered different perspectives when thinking about the issues we may face in our work. This has helped immensely in the way we now approach issues.” Golovinas reports that because audience participation was encouraged, lively and insightful discussions ensued.
Eva Schmid, Head of Scientific Training at the Vienna Biocenter, helped organize the event held there in September, and was keen to attend as an education professional. “Something that stuck with me was that misconduct is quite rare, but sloppiness is frequent,” she says. “This is probably not intentional, but often comes down to insufficient communication or lack of understanding of common standards. Therefore, the research environment we create really matters.” She sees this as an opportunity for institute training teams to get involved. “I think it is important that awareness is raised for these topics at the group leader level, so they can establish a lab environment that facilitates good communication and work practices that reduce the likelihood of mistakes happening – and that’s where training professionals can help, by providing regular workshops and courses.”
Bendiscioli also stands behind the value of the workshops: “Policies continually evolve and change, so it is important to make sure researchers are well informed about new and emerging mandates, policies and guidelines, for example regarding data management or research assessment.” She believes that “research integrity is often not given enough space for discussion. These workshops are an excellent platform for raising awareness and encouraging participation across the scientific community and beyond.”
Since January 2023 the workshops have been renamed EMBO Fora on Responsible Research and continue to take place throughout 2023.