The need for more transparent, comprehensive, and practical guidelines for carrying out quality research has been recognized time and again in the Indian scientific ecosystem. To address this lacuna, the University Grants Commission (UGC) recently released a document titled “Good Academic Research Practices (GARP)”, which lists best practices for researchers and institutions to maintain excellent standards of ethical research.
In September 2020, the University Grants Commission (UGC) released a document titled “Good Academic Research Practices (GARP)”. This document provides information on good practices across a broad range of research-related issues for Indian scientists.
In a bid to address research misconduct in Indian universities and foster integrity & ethics in publication, UGC created the Consortium for Research Ethics on 28 November, 2018. Later, UGC also constituted an expert group on good academic research practices which was chaired by Rakesh Bhatnagar of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). GARP includes recommendations made by this expert group and by many other nationally and internationally recognised model documents on best practices in research.
GARP was authored by a five-member team, comprising Bhushan Patwardhan, Vice-Chairman, UGC; Rakesh Bhatnagar, Vice-Chancellor, BHU; Anand Desai, Policy and Assessment Advisor, Clarivate; Anamika Chourasia, Senior Director, Government & Academic, South Asia and South-East Asia, Clarivate; and Subhasree Nag, Senior Solution Consultant, Clarivate. The authors hope that GARP will serve as a handbook that Indian scientists will refer to when unsure or conflicted about good practices in research.
There are three main areas of focus in this document: 1) framework for good academic practices, 2) institutional management of research, and 3) mentoring of the next generation.
In the first section which deals with the framework for good academic practices, the authors share advice on how to ensure good practices are followed at each step in the life cycle of a research program. They touch upon a broad range of topics, including how to define one’s research question, how to maintain integrity while data collection, what is the ideal way to disseminate one’s research and several other issues relevant to both novice and experienced researchers. At the end of each topic, the authors provide several practical checklists that scientists can use to make sure they have covered all the bases.
The second section, which deals with the role of an institute in the management of research, raises an important point — research institutes should consider setting up an Office of Research Integrity (ORI). According to the authors, the ORI should act both as an “enabler” and “enforcer” of research integrity. It should develop and define the code of conduct for a research institute and train researchers to adhere to it. It should then serve as a watchdog and respond fairly and swiftly in the event of malpractice. Over the long run, the ORI should help establish a “culture of integrity” in the institute.
The authors also say that the code of conduct might vary from one research institute to another so that it is well-suited to the institute’s own practices, needs and context. They provide a list of resources that can be used by institutes to formulate a code of conduct relevant to them.
The last section of the document focuses on mentoring the next generation. The authors say that the “dominant model” for learning how to conduct research is the “apprenticeship model” in which newly-recruited researchers learn by working alongside experienced researchers. In this model of learning, senior researchers play a very important role in imparting the right set of values to junior researchers.
For new researchers, a formal document outlining the good practices can serve as a starting point, which can later evolve into something that defines the roles and responsibilities of mentors as well as what is expected of the mentees. The authors also highlight the fact that many mentors may not be very good at having such discussions. It is especially in such cases that ORI can play an important role in advising and training the mentors and facilitating discussions between mentors and their mentees.
The last section ends with two lists: (1) practices that good advisors should engage in and (2) responsibilities that good students should carry out.
The authors conclude by saying that individual honesty and trust are vital for research and can have a positive impact on all facets of research. However, self-regulation is not always enough. Researchers must be supported through training and workshops by an ORI-like body, to promote and sustain the culture of integrity in research.