Department of Cell Biology
Scientific Culture and Accountability Plan

As members of the Department of Cell Biology we are all greatly privileged to be able to pursue our dreams of discovering new knowledge, widening horizons, and improving the well-being of future generations, both in our own communities and throughout the world. But this privilege comes with heavy responsibilities. We need to ensure that the environment we create is supportive and caring, and that everyone has the opportunity to learn and excel, to feel valued and respected, and to be fairly rewarded for their efforts. We need to do the best work we possibly can, whether we are training students and fellows, generating or analyzing scientific data, preparing and monitoring budgets, taking care of the physical work environment, or advising outside agencies. Every activity is interconnected and we are all responsible for helping each other and for maintaining the highest scientific and ethical standards. There are many reasons why this shared responsibility is important. For one thing, much of the science we do is publicly funded, and scandals associated with misconduct or fake data may undermine support for the NIH budget and the trust of laypeople for advice said to be based on scientific advances. Indeed, we need to be constantly aware that a significant proportion of the population is very skeptical of science and does not understand how the scientific method works. Second, basic science drives translational and clinical research; shoddy data and inaccurate records can increase the risk of exposing patients to harmful or ineffective therapies, or raising false hopes. Finally, all research builds on the results of previous experiments, and is heavily dependent on mutual trust among colleagues; if our data are not repeatable, then time and valuable resources are wasted, trainees become discouraged, and our individual and institutional reputations are damaged.

Given this background, it is the goal of the Department of Cell Biology to foster a supportive and inclusive work environment in which the guiding principles of scientific integrity, innovation, open communication, training, career advancement and discovery research can flourish. The Department has therefore posted to the website the Science Culture and Accountability Plan (SCAP) outlined below. It is the responsibility of every PI or group leader to make sure that all members of their lab, group, Initiative or Center associated with Cell Biology are aware of the Plan, and they should review and discuss it with new members as soon as possible. Moreover, the plan is not immutable but needs to be regularly and openly discussed in a way that encourages active participation and suggestions for change and improvement without fear of recrimination. The Chair and the Business Manager will ensure that members of the administrative and support staff and environmental services working in the Department are aware of the SCAP. Everyone’s opinion and participation matters.

Promoting a culture of accountability for scientific data

Members of the Cell Biology Department should follow these general principles and understand why they are important:

  • Know where your data are stored and take precautions that they are regularly backed up, preferably in more than one location. Be prepared to be able to “audit” the primary data of each figure of a paper.
  • Know what has been done to acquire and modify your data. This is particularly important when they are acquired or manipulated using complex equipment, bioinformatics
  • procedures and/or core resources. All modification of raw data should be performed on copies of the original data, if possible, and should be tracked, dated and fully documented.
  • When using cell lines or mouse strains, have accurate records of their origin and genetic background, and how they are identified and maintained. When doing studies with human samples, including iPS cells or embryonic stem cells, be particularly careful about possible restrictions on their use and terms of IRB approvals.
  • Make all possible efforts to ensure that data collection is unbiased and blinded, and includes both positive and negative controls. Only use well characterized reagents.
  • Understand and follow proper statistical procedures. If in doubt, consult with a bio-statistician before and after data collection.

PIs are responsible for ensuring that lab/group members are aware of these principles. They must work to create an environment in which members do not feel pressured to cut corners in order to generate data quickly. PIs should encourage their trainees to discuss results within the group, in particular any data that challenges a current working hypothesis, grant proposal, or results published by other labs. Primary data should be presented openly in lab meetings, including meetings held jointly with other labs, and shared among members on lab servers. PIs should not let their own stress, about grant funding or career progression affect the attitudes, expectations or behavior of their lab members.

PIs are responsible for establishing a “Data Management Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that will provide specific guidelines for data acquisition, storage and transparency. This will be discussed annually with the Chair.

Promoting a culture of accountability for scientific training and laboratory management

A very important element of the scientific enterprise in the Department of Cell Biology is enabling graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, MSTP students and clinical fellows to develop the many different skills necessary for them to progress in their careers, obtain jobs, and, if appropriate, become independent researchers. Among the skills PIs should help their trainees acquire are the following:

  • Technical skills, ideally using cutting edge techniques.
  • How to write a scientific report, paper and, ideally, a grant.
  • How to prepare a poster.
  • How to present their data at a lab meeting, a scientific meeting and a job interview. How to give a “chalk talk”.
  • How to write a competitive job application and negotiate an offer.
  • How to manage time, people and resources in a laboratory setting.

Trainees should have the opportunity to attend an international scientific meeting or workshop once a year and to present their data before publication. Towards the end of their scientific training period, postdoctoral fellows should be encouraged to develop new ideas, research questions and, ideally, data, that can form the basis of their own independent research program.

At all times the PI should strive to create an atmosphere in which members feel they are working together towards a common goal and are not just “cogs in a wheel” or competing with each other for attention and resources. Trainees should feel able to voice concerns about the quality of their training and the validity of scientific data and/or interpretation, generated within the group, the use of experimental animals, and the ethics of research protocols. Trainees who feel unable to discuss their concerns with their PI should know that they can approach other senior faculty members, and/or the Chair, without fear of recrimination. It goes without saying that there should be a climate of zero tolerance for sexual harassment or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity. The Department celebrates diversity among its faculty, staff and students, and fosters an environment of inclusion for all its members.

Voicing concerns

In addition to voicing concerns with senior Cell Biology faculty team members should be aware of the following resources:
- Anonymous Duke Integrity Hot Line (1-800-826-8109)
- Research Integrity Office
- Occupational and Environmental Safety Office
- Duke Animal Care and Use Program:
- Duke Clinical and Translational Research
- Office for Institutional Equity