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New Graduate Students Baseline Knowledge of the Responsible Conduct of Research

Heitman, Elizabeth PhD; Olsen, Cara H. DrPh; Anestidou, Lida DVM, PhD; Bulger, Ruth Ellen PhD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31812f7956
Education in the Responsible Conduct of Research

Purpose: To assess (1) new biomedical science graduate students’ baseline knowledge of core concepts and standards in responsible conduct of research (RCR), (2) differences in graduate students’ baseline knowledge overall and across the Office of Research Integrity’s nine core areas, and (3) demographic and educational factors in these differences.

Method: A 30-question, computer-scored multiple-choice test on core concepts and standards of RCR was developed following content analysis of 20 United States-published RCR texts, and combined with demographic questions on undergraduate experience with RCR developed from graduate student focus groups. Four hundred two new graduate students at three health science universities were recruited for Scantron and online testing before beginning RCR instruction.

Results: Two hundred fifty-one of 402 eligible trainees (62%) at three universities completed the test; scores ranged from 26.7% to 83.3%, with a mean of 59.5%. Only seven (3%) participants scored 80% or above. Students who received their undergraduate education outside the United States scored significantly lower (mean 52.0%) than those with U.S. bachelor’s degrees (mean 60.5%, P < .001). Participants with prior graduate biomedical or health professions education scored marginally higher than new students, but both groups’ mean scores were well below 80%. The mean score of 16 participants who reported previous graduate-level RCR instruction was 67.7%. Participants’ specific knowledge varied, but overall scores were universally low.

Conclusions: New graduate biomedical sciences students have inadequate and inconsistent knowledge of RCR, irrespective of their prior education or experience. Incoming trainees with previous graduate RCR education may also have gaps in core knowledge.

Author Information

Dr. Heitman is associate professor, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville Tennessee.

Ms. Olsen is biostatistics consultant, Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr. Anestidou is program officer, Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, The National Academies, Washington, DC.

Dr. Bulger is emeritus professor, Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Genetics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Heitman, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 319 Oxford House, Nashville, TN 37232; telephone: (615) 936-2686; fax: (615) 936-3800; e-mail: (

© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges