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NEWS

Science 08 January 2021

'The working climate can have major consequences for the integrity of researchers'

Full professors and associate professors feel that the research climate in their departments is just fine. PhD students and postdocs sometimes see things differently, according to a PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Do you work in a faculty where a climate of distrust prevails? Or is everyone friendly and professional? A faculty’s working climate can have a major impact on the integrity of researchers, says PhD student Tamarinde Haven.

She will receive her doctorate from VU Amsterdam this month based on her research into academic integrity. One of her findings: full professors and associate professors tend to have a rosier picture of the level of academic integrity in their departments compared to researchers who are lower down in the hierarchy.

Socialisation

This understanding could prove to be a key to a healthier research culture, Haven writes. The full professors and associate professors think that they are quite adept at imbuing their younger colleagues with the norms and values that are part of the ethical pursuit of science (‘socialisation’). Those young researchers themselves tend to be significantly more sceptical on this point.

Haven’s findings are based on the results of an extensive survey completed by more than a thousand scientists from the two research universities in Amsterdam and the two university hospitals (which have now merged into a single entity). Respondents included about 200 full professors and associate professors, 300 postdocs and university lecturers, and 500 PhD students.

Role models

Among other recommendations, Haven says that PhD supervisors should take their responsibility as role models seriously and give due consideration to how they instil their students with a sense of ethics and integrity in research practice. Listening carefully to PhD students is an important skill in this regard.

It should be noted that the problems differ per academic discipline. Researchers in the natural sciences tend to be more positive about the research climate in their departments than their colleagues in the humanities.

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