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Date posted: February 9, 2013

I can appreciate your problem in its entirety and can also imagine the frustration and angst it can instil in the faculty members and PGs of a department if the HoD behaves in such an autocratic manner. That said, ideally, your problem should be brought without information that helps to identify specific individuals or Institutions so that unnecessary problems can be avoided. This is something we can take care of in the future.

Some additional information and few clarifications would be helpful.

  • In your institution, do the PG students (Junior Residents/Demonstrators) use institutional facilities and funds for their thesis work or is their thesis research a part of a  project under specific faculty members who have received funding for that project in the capacity of PI from governmental or non-governmental sources?
  • Are your PGs listed as Principal Investigators (PI) and mentors as Co-Investigators (Co-Inv) in PG theses/dissertations?
  • Are the terms used for mentors of PG Guide & Co-guide, Supervisor & Co-supervisor or or Principal and Co- Investigators? You have used guide as well as investigator in your post interchangeably. Please clarify. Guide/Supervisor are terms used for PG thesis/dissertation while Investigator is usually associated for research projects/proposals.
  • Most institutions and governmental funding agencies require that Investigators of a project (in order to get funding) be permanent employees. Since PGs are students and Senior Residents too are usually on tenure posts, they cannot be named as Principal Investigators (PI) or Co-Investigators of research projects. This is something you may clarify with your administration or academic section.
  • Have you received any communique regarding the thesis proposal from your Ethics Committee? Has the proposal been shot down? If yes, on what grounds?

These clarifications aside, I hope the following information is helpful:

  1. It is NOT mandatory to have the HoD as Co-Guide or Co-Supervisor or Co-Inv of any thesis or research project unless the Chief Guide or Supervisor so desires or if that particular PG’s thesis work cannot be carried out without considerable contribution or participation of the HoD. For anything short of active involvement, for routine things like ‘allowing the PG to use departmental facilities’ etc., the HoD’s have to be duly acknowledged.
  2. Traditionally, some institutions have been following this practice as an age old tradition. This practice extended to including the HoD’s name in each publication of out every department as well.
  3. In some institutions, in order to have free access to departmental laboratory facilities and equipment etc., junior faculty members include HoDs for the sake of convenience and for maintaining ‘good relations’. Such Public relation acts that are akin to ‘gift authorship’ are not exactly ethical.

Coming to the role/power of the Ethics Committee (EC):

  1. Whenever a research project/proposal (Clinical trial or PG thesis protocol) is ‘rejected’ by the EC, the reasons for rejecting have to be EXPLICITLY and clearly stated in their correspondence to the Principal Investigator (PI), preferably with remedial suggestions so that the PI can incorporate appropriate changes to make the proposal ethically sound.
  2. Not having the name of the HoD as co-guide or co-supervisor does not constitute unethical practice unless the HoD makes considerable contribution.Please reconfirm your institutional policy of naming the PG as the PI. Pis normally have to be permanent employees.
  3. Issues that are not related to the research proposal or do not pose potential harm or risk to human subjects or animals used in research, or do not violate any established administrative rules or conditions governing research in an institution, do not fall under the ambit of the EC.
  4. If the decision of the EC is in violation with rules governing ethical research, there are mechanisms in place to report them and seek redressal. You can contact your administrative officers for the same.
  5. It would be a good idea to download and read the ICMR guidelines for research on Animals as well as Human Experimentation from http://icmr.nic.in/bioethics.htm

Dr. Nalin Mehta, MD, MHSc.
Additional Professor
Department of Physiology
AIIMS, New Delhi – 110029
India

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