Principles and Policies for Researchers

Your responsibilities as a researcher: Ethical Conduct and Academic Credit

Ethics and Compliance with Research Policies

Ethical conduct underlies every aspect of research, from conceiving the question to collecting and analyzing the data, to sharing the results. Harvard undergraduates are expected to become familiar with their discipline’s ethical standards and to conduct their research activities with the highest level of integrity and commitment to excellence. Research is governed at both the institutional and federal level. As an undergraduate, you are expected to uphold the Harvard College Honor Code in all of your academic endeavors, including research. You are encouraged to ask questions about proper practices and procedures, to be organized and accurate in all of your research activities, to get safety and ethics training early on, and to follow the directions of your faculty mentors and other research staff closely.

This section seeks to impress the critical importance of ethical issues in the conduct of research. It also highlights resources available to undergraduates in this regard. More detailed information about institutional and federal research policies may be found at the websites of the FAS Research Administration Services, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Questions about undergraduate training in the responsible conduct of research may be directed to Greg Llacer.

Research Integrity Training

You are likely to receive information of which you should take particular note about research integrity in concentration courses and as a natural extension of lab-based research. In addition, throughout the year URAF organizes training seminars called Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). The goal of this seminar is to offer undergraduates the foundational awareness about ethical issues involved in research. The seminar also fulfills the research ethics training obligated by the National Science Foundation. (NSF now requires that proposals specify how undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows involved in the research will be given research integrity training). URAF keeps a record of all undergraduates who have participated in this seminar (regardless of whether they are Harvard students or not). Upon request, URAF can issue an email certifying a student’s attendance and consequent fulfilment of research integrity training requirements.

Students can also peruse online course materials available from the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative. After registering and selecting "Harvard University," you may choose the RCR course for the disciplinary area of your research. Undergraduates are encouraged to complete the modules for general responsible conduct, data acquisition and management, and publication practices. (Other modules listed are intended for more advanced researchers and faculty.) Once you have completed the modules and responded to the general test questions, your record will reflect that you have completed the on-line training.

Policies Governing Research Involving Humans and Animals

While all kinds of research, and all aspects of a project, involve ethical dimensions, these dimensions are particularly critical when the research involves humans or animals. In order to ensure ethical standards in such research, federal regulations require that such research be reviewed and approved before data-collection can begin. This regulation is strictly enforced, such that any data obtained without prior approval cannot be used for writing a paper, fulfilling coursework, or any other purpose. This stipulation—that approval be obtained prior to collection of data—applies not only to clinical or laboratory studies, but also to social science and humanities research involving the use of humans or vertebrate animals.

Obtaining Approval to Conduct Research with Human Subjects

Any living person from or about whom information is collected for a scholarly study is considered a "research subject."  Again, the term is not limited to subjects involved in clinical or laboratory studies--it also extends to social science and humanities work, especially in the application of survey research methodology.  When the research involves human subjects, advance approvals must be obtained from Harvard’s FAS Committee on the Use of Human Subjects. In many cases, undergraduate students may get a waiver if the work contributes to the data collection effort of the faculty sponsor.  However, whether or not the project is independent or part of a larger research endeavor, students and faculty should ascertain whether the project requires review. If your research involves working with human subjects, please visit the Undergraduate Research Training Portal (URTP) for more information on how to get started.

Obtaining Approval for Animal Research

The care and use of non-human vertebrate animals is strictly regulated by the federal government. When the research involves vertebrate animals, advance approval must be obtained from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) of the Harvard school in which the research is engaged. Such research—even ‘independent’ projects—must be affiliated with the laboratory research of a principal investigator. It is the faculty involved on the research, not the undergraduate, who is expected to obtain approval for any research involving vertebrate animals. So, please be sure to seek guidance for your research project from your faculty host. For additional information, please see Faculty of Arts and Science Research Administration Services IACUC website.

Research and Academic Credit

If you are conducting research and would like to receive academic credit for it, please keep in mind that research projects that are funded by fellowships or other awards CANNOT receive academic credit. (Note: in some cases, you can get funding for incidental expenses related to your research—like traveling to present your research at a conference—and still receive academic credit for the research.) If you have a question about whether or not your project is eligible for academic credit, please contact the appropriate academic department/concentration or the office of the funding source. (For the policy statement regarding this issue, please see, in Information for Faculty, the note titled “Student Compensation and Credit for Course Work” in the ‘Course Administration’ section.)

Research can be approved for academic credit through the following options:

  • Course 91r
    You can enroll for 91r. This enables you to conduct independent research under the direction of faculty. The research must be approved before enrollment by the head tutor or Director of Undergraduate Studies (depending on the academic department). The "r" indicates that the course may be repeated for credit, i.e. you can take 91r again in future semesters to get credit for additional research. The parameters for 91r, when offered, are set by academic departments, and you should discuss this option with an adviser in the department.

  • Tutorials (other 9Xr courses)
    These courses are designed to prepare you for thesis research in a primary concentration, which must be approved in advance by a thesis advisor in the academic department. Like 91r, the "r" here indicates that the course may be repeated for credit; however, there may be other appropriate tutorial courses within an academic department that reflect a specific course year (for instance, sophomore tutorial versus advanced tutorial).

  • Independent Study
    These courses are designed for research (or other academic study) not already available through regular coursework offered by the department. A plan to undertake Independent Study requires a petition signed by the Resident Dean and a faculty member/concentration official. More information about independent study may be found in the ‘Academic Information’ section of the Harvard Undergraduate Student Handbook.