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Griffith University’s implementation of the Australian Code (2018)0

 

Dr Amanda Fernie, Manager Research Ethics & Integrity, Griffith University Dr Gary Allen, Senior Policy Officer, Griffith University

AUSTRALIAN CODE (2007)

At Griffith University, the implementation, operation, investigations and related professional development of/for the 2007 edition of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research is the responsibility of the Research Ethics & Integrity team in the Office for Research.

The Griffith University Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research was the University’s policy implementation of the Australian Code (2007) and it was supplemented by the Research Integrity Resource Sheet (RIRS) series. The Griffith University Code was largely a direct repeat of the Australian Code into Griffith University policy. The RIRS is a series of short (most are four pages) guidance documents that provide practical tips related to the University’s implementation of Part A and Part B of Australian Code (2007).

IMPLEMENTING THE AUSTRALIAN CODE (2018)

This is the first post in the series about institutions implementing the Australian Code (2018). We’d love to hear about your instution’s progress and story. Email us at IntegrityStory@ahrecs.com to discuss logistics.

At the outset, Griffith University decided to give its Research Integrity Adviser (RIA) network a more collegiate advisory role, and while RIAs were made available to advise complainants and respondents, or parties in a dispute, their primary role was providing advice and suggestions.
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Professional development workshops on research integrity for new HDR candidates were conducted a few times a year (as part of the orientation) and were co-facilitated by the Office for Research and the Griffith Graduate Research School. Workshops on research integrity were also conducted for new HDR Supervisors as part of their accreditation. Since 2007, professional development workshops in Schools, Departments, Research Centres, Administrative units and Groups have been co-facilitated by the relevant RIA and a member of the Research Ethics & Integrity team.
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APPROACH TO THE AUSTRALIAN CODE (2018)

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Griffith University aims to have fully implemented the Australian Code (2018) by the end of March 2019. Griffith’s Research Committee has recommended to the Academic Committee that the redundant detail of the Griffith University Code be replaced by the Griffith University Responsible Conduct of Research policy. This policy articulates the University’s implementation of the principles and responsibilities of the Australian Code (2018), the role of the University’s collegiate RIAs, and the existence and role of the resource material that will be produced by the Office for Research.
Our Office for Research is currently liaising with the relevant parts of the University to determine who has control of:

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Level 1 – Documents that refer to or link to the Australian Code, where a simple change to the reference/URL is required. Example: HDR candidate supervision policy.
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Level 2 – Documents that derive authority from the Australian Code, where it will need to be determined if the Australian Code (2018) still directly provides that authority or if any changes are required. Example: Publication ethics standards.
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Level 3 – Documents that copy, refer to or use a component of the Australian Code (2007), where it will need to be determined if the Australian Code (2018) still provides that component or if it needs to be replaced by institutional guidance.
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The above work is underway and progressing well.
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In the event new institutional guidance is required, it will be included in the updated RIRS series.
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UPDATED RESEARCH INTEGRITY RESOURCE SHEETS

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The following resource sheets are being produced:
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  1. Introduction to research integrity at Griffith University
  2. Moving to the 2018 version of the Australian Code
  3. Planning and conducting a project responsibly
  4. Responsible research outputs
  5. Responsible data management
  6. Collaborative research: Hints and tips
  7. The responsible supervisor
  8. The responsible candidate
  9. Conflicts of interest
  10. Tips for peer review
  11. Disputes between researchers
  12. Investigations of alleged breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
  13. Alleged breaches: Tips for complainants
  14. Alleged breaches: Tips for respondents
  15. Research Misconduct

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Initially any ‘new’ guidance material will use text from Part A of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007), but the intention is to refine the material based on (sub)discipline and methodological feedback from the University’s research community, drawing from useful ideas from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and the UK Research Integrity Office.
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As new good practice guides are released the relevant RIRS will be reviewed and updated as required.
Griffith University is taking a ‘learning institution’ approach to this material, where it is refined and improved over time based on user feedback and suggestions, institutional and (inter)national experience/events and changes in needs.
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COMMUNICATION PLAN

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The Office for Research is currently finalising a communication plan, in addition to regular updates to Research Committee, the RIA network and the areas of the University identified for the consultation above. This will include briefings for the Group Research Committees.
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AWARENESS AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
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Early in 2019, the Office for Research and RIAs will commence professional development activities to raise awareness and understanding of the national and international changes.
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Amanda is happy to be contacted with any questions or suggestions about this work.
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Contributors
Amanda Fernie, Griffith University | a.fernie@griffith.edu.au & Gary Allen, Griffith University

This post may be cited as:
Fernie, A. & Allen, G. (26  November 2018) Griffith University’s implementation of the Australian Code (2018). Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/griffith-universitys-implementation-of-the-australian-code-2018
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We invite debate on issues raised by items we publish. However, we will only publish debate about the issues that the items raise and expect that all contributors model ethical and respectful practice.

 

“More what you’d call guidelines”0

 

In a notorious scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbarossa refers to the Pirate’s Code cynically as ‘what you’d call guidelines’ suggesting that conformity is merely a matter of choice:

Elizabeth: Wait! You have to take me to shore. According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren…

Captain Barbarossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply and you’re not. And thirdly, the Code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.

Recently, some evidence has emerged that the same observation could be made about another set of guidelines, namely, those relating to the ethics review and conduct of human research in Australia: the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and Universities Australia in 2007 and modified to the current version of May 2015. These guidelines set out the principles and processes for ethics review by human research ethics committees (HRECs) and conduct of research in which people are participants. The guidelines also set out requirements for the establishment, membership and operation of HRECs and assign obligations to institutions to see that these are followed. Since 2001, the NHMRC has established and maintained a register on which institutions list their HRECs and agree to operate them according to the National Statement.

Annually, these institutions provide to the NHMRC, on request, reports on the conduct of the HRECs they have established. It is these reports, covering 2014, 2015 and 2016 that provide revealing evidence about the extent to which HRECs and institutions in fact conform to the National Statement.

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ACTIVITY

‘When an institution has established an HREC, the institution is responsible for ensuring that…

  • review of research proposal is thorough;
  • review processes and procedures are expeditious;
  • the workload of an HREC does not compromise the quality or timeliness of the ethical review;’ (National Statement 5.1.28 (c), (d) & (i))

Some reasons for these guidelines are that ensuring an adequate workload maintains review skills and that avoiding an excessive workload weakens and prolongs reviews.

Evidence:

In 2014, of the 216 HRECs that reported, 11 did not review any proposals and 59 met between 1 to 5 times and 41 HRECs considered not more than 10 proposals.

In 2015, of the 212 HRECs that reported, 10 did not review any proposals and 54 met between 1 to 5 times, and 42 HRECs considered not more than 10 new proposals.

In 2016, of the 210 HRECs that reported, 15 did not review any proposals and 50 met not more than 1 to 5 times and 42 HRECs considered not more than 10 new proposals.

The published data support the conclusion that in each of the last three years about 5% of the HRECs did not review any proposals and about 20% did not review more than 10 new proposals. What would be the effect of such light workloads on the review expertise of HREC members?

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TRAINING

One other means by which committees can maintain their review skills is to undertake regular continuing education or training. The National Statement contains two relevant guidelines that recognise this:

‘where an institution has established an HREC, the institution is responsible for ensuring that… (b) members undertake: (ii) continuing education;’ (5.1.28 (b)(ii)), and

‘…each member of a review body should: …(c) attend continuing education or training programs in research ethics at least every three years.’ (5.2.3 (c)).

Evidence:

In 2016, 161 of 210 HRECs reported that ‘1 or more’ members had attended training during the year.

In 2015, 185 of the 212 HRECs reported that their institutions made opportunities for training available to members, but only 160 reported that 1 or more members had attended relevant training during the year.

In 2014, although 179 of the 217 HRECs indicted that their responsible institution provided opportunities for members to attend training, only 149 of the committees reported that 1 or more members had attended relevant training during the year.

The data published by the NHMRC does not allow us to identify whether the same HRECs failed to take advantage of training possibilities in different years nor to work out what kinds of institutions were more or less likely to ensure professional development of committee members. Nevertheless, in each of these years, between 30 and 40 HRECs undertook no training at all and the data for those that did could mean that not more than one member attended one training opportunity in that year.

While some HRECs may be investing in the professional development of their members, it is difficult to conclude that the requirements are being taken seriously across the sector.

Indeed, it is doubtful that the sector as a whole is engaging with capacity building of HREC members. Since 2008, the NHMRC has not devoted any resources to training of HRECs, in contrast with its counterparts in the United Kingdom. Canada and the United States. The provision of such professional development as is available has fallen to voluntary national gatherings, such as the Australasian Ethics Network or to commercial providers.

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MEMBERSHIP

There is a minimum membership for HRECs of eight constituted by specified categories, namely,

  • a chair,
  • at least two community members,
  • a member with experience in counselling or treatment of people,
  • a person who performs a community pastoral role
  • a lawyer
  • at least two researchers. (National Statement 5.1.30)

The specification relates to HREC decision-making, as the guidelines provide that HREC decisions ‘must be informed by an exchange of opinions from each of those who constitute the minimum membership…’

Evidence:

In the 2016 year, 16 of the 210 HRECs reported that they did not have the minimum membership during the year.

In the 2015 year, 42 of the 212 HRECs reported during the year that they made decisions on proposals when there was a vacancy in their membership, conduct that the report noted as being ‘contrary to the National Statement’.

In the 2014 year, 34 of the 216 HRECs reported that they had continued meeting when there was a vacancy in their membership, again noted in the report as being ‘contrary to the National Statement’.

Accordingly, there were numerous decisions – it is impossible to calculate how many – made by HRECs during each of the last three years that lacked the range of input that the guidelines require. Further, as the reports in 2014 and 2015 note, such decision-making is contrary to the National Statement and, in turn, a failure by the responsible institution to fulfil its responsibility to ‘see that any human research for which they are responsible is… ethically reviewed and monitor in accordance with this National Statement.’ (National Statement 5.1.1(b)).

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GENDER BALANCE

One other guideline about membership provides that, ‘as far as possible, there should be equal numbers of men and women’ (National Statement 5.1.29(a)).

Evidence:

In the 2016 report, it was stated that because ‘It is recognised that this may be difficult to attain’, the ‘NHMRC considered instances in which there was at least an 80:20 gender imbalance as significant and requiring attention.’ Only 5 of the 210 HRECs reported such an imbalance. No data were reported of the number of HRECs in which there was a lesser gender imbalance.

In the 2015 report, the same statements appear and only 3 of the 212 HRECs reported an imbalance of 80:20 or more.

In the 2014 report, that statement does not appear and 24 of the 216 HRECs are reported to have ‘less than a 70:30 gender balance in either direction.’

Accordingly, gender imbalances of anything less than 1 in 5 are not regarded as in need of attention, an interpretation of the guideline that provides very little incentive to correct imbalances that, in many other contexts in 2018, would be regarded as unacceptable. Were the sector taking gender seriously in HREC membership, it would be far better to create more meaningful targets and, if necessary, to phase these in over time. It would also be sensible to track where gender imbalance lies within committee membership and compare that to broader patterns within the host institutions. For example, if the small number of female academics on a committee reflected a broader problem in an institution, the latter may need to be addressed first rather than placing an increased burden on a small number of more senior female academics.

Year Reviewed applications Complaints about research Complaints about review
2007 10777 138 49
2008 21087 96 19
2009 22306 100 11
2010 23696 121 21
2011 25022 n/a n/a
2012 26257 161 19
2013 24882 145 20
2014 20892 226 58
2015 18768 229 34
2016 18039 237 37

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IMPLICATIONS

Does any of this matter? If so, why: do deficiencies in the processes by which HRECs reach their conclusions and decisions contribute to more of those decisions being inappropriate or unacceptable? Trends in complaints data may be some indication, and these data, available from 2007 to the current year (except 2011), tabulated below, do show some increase in both kinds of complaints. However, it is notoriously difficult to generate reliable conclusions from complaints data.

Implications for NHMRC Administering Institutions

Institutions take responsibility for annual HREC reports and many of those institutions will be administering institutions with NHMRC grants, the conditions for which are contained in a standard Funding Agreement. Clause 24 of that agreement provides that ‘in carrying out this Agreement, the Administering Institution must comply… with… the NHMRC Approved Standards and Guidelines.’ (which are defined to include the National Statement). Clause 30.4 of the same agreement requires Administering Institutions to ‘immediately notify the NHMRC in writing if it ceases fully to comply with… the NHMRC Approved Standard and Guidelines. Such failures are among the grounds on which the NHMRC can suspend or terminate research funding’ (Funding Agreement clause 15).

Should reporting of a non-compliant HREC be treated as such a breach? Given that an institution is required to notify the NHMRC when it ceases ‘fully to comply’, any of the deficiencies recorded above from the last three annual reports of HRECs would appear to be sufficient.

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Some wider implications and questions

These data raise the question: when is an HREC decision sufficiently defective as not to merit respect or recognition? When there is no input from any one of the minimum members? When the gender balance is lower than 1 in 5 in either direction? When the decision is the only one or only one of 5 that the committee has made in a year? When none of the committee members have attended training in the last three years? When the decision is one of 30 made at the same meeting? When there is no reference in the decision to any one of the four key review criteria: research merit, justice, beneficence or respect?

Will tolerance of nonconforming practice lead to declining support for and recognition of HRECs and, in turn, of ethics review itself? If that recognition declines, will the need for ethics review be questioned? Would recognition that Australian ethics review lacks accountability and conformity to national guidelines threaten the reputation of Australian research, researchers and research institutions?

Doing nothing in the face of this evidence condones the nonconforming practices and risks breeding an indifference to ethics review and, in turn, to seeing it as irrelevant and unnecessary.

However, if a response to these data of deficiency is needed, at what level should that response be made: that of the HRECs, institutions or all the sector stakeholders? In short, who should take responsibility for the reliability of ethics review and how should that responsibility be implemented?

Contributors
Colin Thomson – Senior Consultant, AHRECS | AHRECS biocolin.thomson@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Thomson C. (2017, 22 March 2018) “More what you’d call guidelines”. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/more-what-youd-call-guidelines

Dealing with “normal” misbehavior in science: Is gossip enough?0

Posted by Admin in Research Integrity on September 20, 2017 / Keywords: , , , ,
 

As scientists, whether in the natural or social sciences, we tend to be confident in the self-policing abilities of our disciplines to root out unethical behavior. In many countries, we have institutionalized procedures for dealing with egregious forms of misconduct in the forms of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (FFP).

But research is increasingly calling attention to more “everyday” forms of misconduct—modes of irresponsible (if not unethical) behavior, pertaining to how we conduct our research as well as our relationships with colleagues. These include, for example:

  • cutting corners and being sloppy in one’s research (which makes future replication difficult)
  • delaying reviews of a colleague’s work in order to beat them to publication
  • exploiting students
  • unfairly claiming authorship credit
  • misusing research funds
  • sabotaging colleagues, and so on.

Such behaviors don’t violate FFP, but nevertheless fall short of the professional standards we aspire to. They begin to shape the implicit norms we internalize about what it takes to become successful in our fields (i.e., the formal script may be that we are to give others their due credit, but “really” we know that winners need to play dirty). Further, such actions can foster experiences of injustice and exploitation that lead some of us to leave our professions altogether. They thus compromise the integrity of scientific research and can create the climate for more serious violations to occur.

Just because such forms of what DeVries, Anderson, and Martinson call “normal misbehavior” can’t be formally sanctioned, it doesn’t mean they go unnoticed. Rather, in the research that my colleagues and I conducted on scientists in several countries, we found such accounts to be commonplace. Why, then, the confidence in the self-policing abilities of our disciplines? The answer, we were surprised to find, was gossip.

Scientists regularly circulate information in their departments and subfields about those who violate scientific norms. Through such gossip, they try to warn one another about colleagues whose work one ought not to trust, as well as those with whom one should avoid working. The hope here is that the bad reputation generated by such gossip will negatively impact perpetrators and serve as a deterrent to others.

What we found, however, was that the same respondents would admit that many scientists in their fields managed to be quite successful in spite of a negative reputation. Some talked about stars in their disciplines who managed to regularly publish in top journals precisely because they cut corners, or managed to be highly prolific because they exploited students. Others feared that influential perpetrators could retaliate against challengers. Some others complained of “mafias” in their disciplines that controlled access to prestigious journals and grants. Still others didn’t want to develop a reputation as a troublemaker for challenging their colleagues.

Perhaps the strangest case we encountered was of a scientist at a highly reputed institution in India who was notorious for beating students with shoes if they made mistakes in the lab. Former students would try to warn incoming students through posters around campus, but this did little to hinder the flow of new students into the lab.

Our findings overall suggest that such gossip works as an effective deterrent only when targets of gossip are of lower status than perpetrators. For instance, gossip among senior scholars about the irresponsible behavior of a postdoc or junior faculty member can inhibit their hiring and promotion. However, the veracity of such gossip is hard to verify, and false rumors can destroy someone’s career. In one case we encountered, a scientist saw a colleague spread false gossip about a potential hire, but was unable to intervene in a timely manner to correct this rumor. Transgressors may also remain unaware of gossip, and thus may not be able to correct their behaviors. In cases where targets are of higher status, gossip seems little more than a means of venting frustration, with little effect on perpetrators. Overall, as a means of social control in the discipline, gossip is rather ineffective.

So why does all this matter?

The very prevalence of such gossip indicates that scientific communities still need to take more steps to improve the integrity of their organizations and fields, beyond simply sanctions for FFP. The content of such gossip should be important to leaders of scientific institutions because it can provide important access to rampant forms of irresponsible behavior that erode the integrity of scientific institutions. Obviously, such gossip can’t simply be taken at face value; investigation is needed to weed out false rumors. Institutions need to develop better channels to report questionable behavior and need to regularly analyze such reports for patterns that warrant attention.

What’s most crucial is that institutional leaders prioritize creating a climate that fosters prevention and transparency, encourages speaking up about such issues, and provides safety from potential retaliation. These are among the best practices for protecting whistleblowers, as identified by the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) of the US Department of Labor. In addition to ethics training on issues related to FFP, the ongoing professionalization of scientists needs to include more overt discussion about

  • the implicit norms of success in the field
  • the prevalence and causes of burnout
  • how to productively address some of the more rampant forms of irresponsible behavior (such as the ones I listed earlier in this post), and
  • systemic issues, such as competitive pressures and structural incentives that enable the rationalization of irresponsible behavior

If such measures are implemented, we can significantly improve the ethical climates of our institutions and disciplines; reduce some of the attrition caused by institutional climates that tolerate (and even reward) such “normal misbehavior”; and help prevent the more egregious scandals that shake the public’s trust in science.

References

Martinson, B. C., Anderson, M. S., & De Vries, R. (2005). Scientists behaving badly.  Nature, 435(7043), 737-738.
Chicago

Shinbrot, T. (1999). Exploitation of junior scientists must end. Nature, 399(6736), 521.

De Vries, R., Anderson, M. S., & Martinson, B. C. (2006). Normal misbehavior: Scientists talk about the ethics of research. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 1(1), 43-50.

Vaidyanathan, B., Khalsa, S., & Ecklund, E. H. (2016). Gossip as Social Control: Informal Sanctions on Ethical Violations in Scientific Workplaces. Social Problems, 63(4), 554-572.

Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC). (2015). Best Practices for Protecting Whistleblowers and Preventing and Addressing Retaliation. https://www.whistleblowers.gov/wpac/WPAC_BPR_42115.pdf

Contributor
Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan is Associate Professor of Sociology | The Catholic University of America | CUA Staff pagebrandonv@cua.edu

This post may be cited as:
Vaidyanathan B. (2017, 2o September 2017) Dealing with “normal” misbehavior in science: Is gossip enough? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/dealing-normal-misbehavior-science-gossip-enough

Professional Development across the Term of an HREC Committee Member0

 

AHRECS has considerable experience working with universities, hospitals, research institutions, government and non-government organisations to care for and build the capacity of its HREC Committee members across the entire term of their appointment. We start with the needs of our clients and offer support from recruitment all the way through to running an exit interview.

Many HRECs have quite simple manual-based inductions; we help HRECs to create something more welcoming and interactive that takes members from first contact to the point where they can contribute effectively to a committee. There is a significant difference between delivering a single ‘training session’ and creating a suite of professional development activities over two to three years, that covers committee members’ terms, and that might include dedicated annual PD and Strategy sessions and incorporate ongoing PD into each HREC meeting.

We can:

  • help recruit expert external members to meet the needs of specific HRECs
  • create interactive and multi-media induction and orientation materials
  • introduce members to the broader literature on research ethics
  • create material and run professional development sessions tailored to the specialist roles of particular HRECs
  • evaluate the performance of the HREC and provide feedback to the HREC and its host institution
  • offer exit interviews to HREC members stepping down from their role, and then….
  • help recruit replacement members to HRECs

We have provided elements of such services in Australia, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam for new and established, small and large institutions and consortia of research organisations.

Contributor
Prof. Mark Israel, AHRECS senior consultant
AHRECS profile page
mark.israel@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel M. (2017, 22 June) Professional Development across the Term of an HREC Committee Member. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/services/professional-development-across-term-hrec-committee-member