Laboratory management institute: a model for the professional development of scientists.

Author:Galland, John C.


While announcements of new scientific discoveries appear almost daily, there also are reminders that some discoveries, such as the cloning of human cells by Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk from South Korea, are fabricated (Wade & Sang-Hun, 2006). Accusations of research misconduct are costly to an institution's recruitment, enrollment, funding and reputation. Increasingly, multiple million-dollar fines are levied by the federal government against universities for misuse of grant monies. Of the more than $200 billion invested in research annually in the United States (U.S.), the collective and less egregious errors and inefficiencies of scientists cost millions of dollars (Pascal, 1998). Excuses for research misconduct and inefficiencies include pressures to succeed, carelessness, poor recordkeeping, a breakdown of the peer-review system, lack of oversight of laboratory personnel, and the confusion and misunderstandings that sometimes can occur among personnel with diverse backgrounds or value systems. These rationalizations aside, misconduct and inefficiencies lie ultimately in the character and abilities of the individual researcher. Fortunately, leadership and management skills and, to an extent, integrity can be learned, but do researchers seek out and have time for this education, and do institutions have the necessary educational resources available for this learning to occur? The Laboratory Management Institute (LMI) was created to develop and use new educational resources to motivate researchers to acquire greater knowledge, abilities, and skills for establishing and managing their programs responsibly and efficiently.

  1. Rationale

    Research administrators have a broadly defined responsibility to ensure that the institutional culture promotes and facilitates excellence in the conduct of research. Through federally mandated committees such as the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and through campus administrative units such as Environmental Health and Safety, research administrators approve and monitor the practices of researchers to help assure they comply with regulations governing the study of humans and vertebrate animals, as well as environmental protection. Through pre- and post-award services, research administrators help ensure the fiduciary responsibilities of the university and its personnel. Personnel involved in research funded by certain federal agencies now are required to receive education in the responsible conduct of research. Frequently, this responsibility also is being met by research offices. In the Office of Research at UC Davis, an experiment was conducted to expand the scope of education in responsible conduct of research to include laboratory management.

    Protecting the Research Enterprise: Multiple Reasons for Providing Education in Scientific Management

    While graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are likely to receive excellent education in their research discipline, they are less likely to receive formal education in the leadership and management skills essential for the day-to-day operation of a research program and laboratory (Pascal, 1998). Currently, academic institutions have invested limited resources in leadership and management education for graduate students and scholars because they expect this education to be provided adequately and equitably by faculty mentors. However, many mentors view such education as secondary to guiding the students' or scholars' research project. In addition, mentors sometimes lack education in management skills themselves, or the resources to teach the skills consistently and efficiently to their students and scholars. Also, they may lack experience to guide their students and scholars in developing professional skills for employment positions outside academia. A simple scan of advertisements for research positions will reveal that employers prefer applicants with good communication skills and an ability to work well within diverse teams. These and other highly desirable skills, such as problem solving, innovating, behaving with integrity, using best practices, and leading and managing research teams, are seldom taught formally in our universities, and no one mentor should be expected to meet all the various needs of his or her mentees.

    Faculty researchers often have little or no education in managing laboratories with highly diverse people, but rely increasingly on the research work of international students and scholars. At the extreme, students from countries that have been battling over politics or religion for hundreds of years may be asked to work alongside one another. Educational programs are needed to develop the professional skill-set that enables scientists to overcome cultural, language, gender-orientation, ethnic, age, and other barriers to communication that can be encountered in a laboratory with a diversity of people. Studies have shown that, for complex tasks, a diverse team of skilled workers will outperform a homogeneous group of comparatively skilled and motivated workers if the diversity is managed effectively (Hayles & Russell, 1997).

    There is growing need for researchers to mount rapid and highly collaborative and coordinated research responses to global crises. Translational and other collaborative research is becoming more important in a society that also is becoming more complex and global. Therefore, educational programs are needed for researchers to develop skills for leading and participating in research that is highly collaborative.

    A skeptical public requires greater assurances of the believability and significance of research results to help them decipher and resolve what often appear to be contradictory results among researchers. The evidence must be as irrefutable as possible so that the public can determine if the scientist's inferences drawn from the research warrant changes in their own personal behavior, level of advocacy for certain lines of research, or their financial support of those research lines through taxes, grants, contracts, commercialization, and gifts. Scientists have an obligation to learn, use, and advance "best" scientific practices and perhaps a growing need to follow strictly, for instance, the guidelines of the Good Laboratory Practices Act. This creates an opportunity for research administrators to help researchers enhance their understanding of the importance of documenting the quality and validity of research results, and to provide greater institutional resources for enabling increased documentation. The increasing complexity of research and the increasing costs and volume of research data further require many researchers to be better trained in efficient execution of their research (Kulakowski & Chronister, 2006). Of equal importance, researchers with good leadership and management skills, such as an ability to communicate to the public how their research fits into a larger context, will be better able to acquire support. Research administrators can have a vital role in creating the means to assist researchers in these endeavors, and in providing career-enhancing educational programs to help them meet the growing need to compete for and leverage resources. For instance, research administrators might better enhance the education of researchers in the protection, licensing, and commercialization of intellectual property, in part, because of its significance as a source of funding or revenue.

    Development of leadership and management skills is essential for decreasing the costs of mismanagement, research inefficiencies, and incidents of misconduct. More importantly, these same skills can increase scientific discovery, innovation, mentoring, and global competitiveness. A recent national survey reports that scientists spend, on average, 42% of their time on administrative matters (Keen, 2006)--time that otherwise might be used for discovery and innovation. Programs supported by research administrators that would help their faculty in mentoring students and scholars might increase scholarship.

    More funding agencies are investigating allegations of scientific misconduct. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to investigate allegations of misconduct of scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ORI requires recipient institutions to have a means of investigating allegations of research misconduct in collaboration with the agency, and for submitting the results of their investigations to the agency for review, further investigation, and judgment. Research administrators, through preventive educational programs, can lessen these costs.

    NIH and other funding agencies require applicants to have education in responsible research to be eligible for certain awards. Applications for specific NIH funding programs must include documentation about how investigators have or will have met education requirements in the responsible conduct of research, including data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership; conflict of interest and commitment; collaborative science; human and vertebrate animal subjects; publication practices, responsible authorship, and peer review; and mentor and trainee responsibilities. Investigators and institutions not meeting the education requirements can lose funding.

    Finally, the research enterprise is enhanced if researchers help reduce IRB and IACUC operating costs by submitting and effectively executing study designs that will accomplish their research goals while posing fewer compliance problems and requiring less review and monitoring.

    Almost all institutions have departments of human resources that provide developmental education for faculty and staff, but these educational opportunities usually are not designed to address the specific needs of...

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