Speak up! (Katherine Firth)

(Content note: includes material on bullying, harassment, violence and sexual assault).

We all agree that research should be done with 'integrity'. But what does that mean?

Does it mean abiding by the policies and procedures required for Ethics Approvals? Does it mean not breaking the Code of Conduct? Does it mean using software to help avoid plagiarism like EndNote and iThenticate?

Or does integrity also include wider concerns? Might it include every aspect of your relationship to your data, communicating your research, your research relationships with subjects, supervisors, and research team?

La Trobe’s Research values are "Honesty, objectivity, duty of care, fairness, accuracy, reliability and responsibility". They are relevant as much to your decisions about what to publish (are your results really significant?), how you relate to the communities you study (are you giving them data and analysis that helps them as well as your career?), and how you decide who gets authorship on collaborative papers (does authorship reflect contribution?).

There will probably also be a personal aspect to your own code of research integrity.

In his book Researching with Integrity (2010) Bruce MacFarlane connects research integrity with research identity. He proposes that moral values, and how they guide conduct, have a strong role to play in responsible research practice." (GRO Research Integrity).

Underlying all these requirements for research integrity are basic rules around safety, equity and inclusion. It’s hard to do higher-order thinking (the kind needed to solve problems and create new knowledge!) if people do not feel safe or connected. 

In our Graduate Research Online Research Integrity module (GRO Research Integrity), we remind candidates that all research collaborations are based on 'trust' and any setting where you feel unsafe, discriminated or harassed is not a place you can (or should!) trust others.

This is why La Trobe has established programs like Speak Up! and Consent Matters. Speak Up is a service where staff and students can report issues anonymously, get informal help, or make a formal complaint for yourself or another person, on any issue around bullying, harassment or feeling unsafe.

Issues might include: bullying, cyberbullying, discrimination, harassment, racial harassment and vilification, sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual assault and consent, image-based abuse and sextortion, violence, physical violence, psychological violence, hazing, verbal abuse, and family, domestic and intimate partner violence.

If you have experience or witnessed unacceptable or concerning behaviour, get in touch with Speak Up and let them help you.

One particularly problematic aspect of unsafe, unequal relationships is in the area of sexual consent. La Trobe responded to the 2017 report by University Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission, 'Respect. Now. Always.' on students' experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment:

We are very concerned by the behaviours identified in this survey and that some people wrongly believe it’s OK to behave in this way, be it in a university lecture hall, on public transport, or the local community.
It’s not OK. Sexual assault and sexual harassment shouldn’t happen here at La Trobe University. It shouldn’t happen at all.
As a community, we can all do better in treating each other with the respect and decency we each deserve. We hope this survey is a catalyst for a community conversation on how we should better interact with each other and set higher expectations for ourselves and each other.
As part of a response to the issues raised by the report, the university has recently released a compulsory online module for all students including Higher Degree Research candidates, 'Consent Matters', to help everyone understand that relationships must be consensual and that there are situations where there cannot be true consent. One place there cannot be true consent is where it may be difficult for one person to say no - for example, if the other person is their supervisor or employer. For this reason, La Trobe says these kinds of relationships are inappropriate. For more information about free and fair consent, log into the LMS (using your La Trobe Student log in) and click on the ‘Consent Now’ link on the front page. Interested staff can also access a version of the training through the LMS.

The 2017 report found that one of the most common places for harassment to take place was on public transport, so the university also has support for safer journeys to, from and around Melbourne and regional campuses. If you are in the lab or library late at night and want someone to walk with you to your parked car, the tram stop, or another university building, give Security a call and they can send someone to escort you.

As the Dean of the Graduate Research School Professor Chris Pakes wrote in a recent Dean's Update newsletter (check your Clutter folder if you aren’t getting these regularly):

The safety and wellbeing of all members of the La Trobe community and a safe and supportive research culture is of paramount importance to La Trobe. From time to time, you may be challenged by threatening, aggressive or inappropriate behaviour on campus, online, or while undertaking fieldwork. If you feel that is the case, and someone’s behaviour makes you feel uncomfortable, the best way to manage things is to speak up and get advice and support....You may also become aware of other students experiencing bullying, violence, homelessness, struggles with mental health, or other welfare-related issues. The Speak Up service can help navigate these sensitive conversations, and provide you with information about additional support and referral options.
Hopefully, you are reading this post and finding it "a catalyst for a community conversation on how we should better interact with each other and set higher expectations for ourselves and each other" (Respect. Now. Always. Report). 

As you navigate your way through your research, whether as a new HDR candidate or an experienced senior researcher, there are many other resources to help develop your awareness around researching with integrity: 
Finally, if you have been impacted by any of the issues raised in this post, or have observed others being affected by concerning behaviour, you can use the Speak Up service immediately. Speak Up can address inappropriate behaviour by supporting you with a set of recommendations and referrals, and decide on the best course of action for improving behavioural issues.

Call the Speak Up hotline on 03 9479 8988, email the Speak Up service at speakup@latrobe.edu.au, or complete the Speak Up Online Report.

There is support for you so you can get back to doing amazing research, and sharing it to make the world a better place.


Katherine Firth has worked as an academic, an Academic Skills advisor and as an academic manager. She is currently a lecturer in the Research Education and Development Team at La Trobe. She also runs a doctoral writing blog at Research Degree Voodoo

She has won an academic award for her work on Thesis Boot Camp at the University of Melbourne. 

 Her research interests are literature, musicology, cultural history, and academic writing. She tweets from @katrinafee.