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RCR - Part 2

Conflict of Interest

Conflicts of interest can be defined as situations in which a divergence between personal and professional interests might be perceived, such as an individual's professional actions being influenced by considerations of personal gain. Conflicts of interest can erode scientific objectivity.

In the modern research institution, it is impossible to avoid conflicts of interest. The goal of policies in this regard is not, therefore, to eliminate all conflicts but rather to manage them. The key to the conflict of interest process is communication and disclosure.

At most institutions, all faculty members are required to submit to their Chair/Director, Dean or Dean Equivalent, and finally to the vice President an annual disclosure and certification of compliance with the policies regarding conflicts of interest and any state ethics laws. In addition, as circumstances may arise during the year, ad hoc disclosures may be necessary. It is often difficult to identify a potential conflict of interest. One way to sensitize yourself to possible issues is to review the policies in their entirety.

Conflicts of commitment, a related problem, are situations in which the individual's time and energy are unreasonably diverted away from away from institutional responsibilities. Conflicts of commitment are managed in part through limits on the amount of time that a faculty member may act as a consultant. Consulting and other outside activities can create real benefits for the faculty member and for the institutions involved; they can also create conflicts of commitment, and can precipitate conflicts of interest.  The scenario linked here, developed by the National Academy of Sciences, allows analysis of hypothetical conflicts, and FVSU encourages researchers to view it.

In addition to institutional requirements, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have their own requirements for disclosures whenever a proposal is submitted to either. Special attention is focused on conflicts of interest in biomedical research, particularly in the relationships between faculty and pharmaceutical companies in the conduct of clinical trials.

Any issues related to conflict of interest should be discussed with Chair/Director and Dean/Dean Equivalent. The Office of the Vice-President for External Affairs, the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Post Award Office, and the Office of the Director of Agricultural Research are also available to provide advice.