Rules of good scientific practice in doctoral degree procedures
The right to award doctorates belongs exclusively to universities (see the expertise of the German Council of Science and Humanities 2009). The right to award doctoral degrees—, whereby new members are admitted into the realm of professional science—comes with the obligation to support junior scientists on their way to the doctoral degree. This is usually done through the doctoral thesis, while observing and encouraging adherence to scientific standards and the rules of good scientific practice, and to apply due care in the assessment of scientific work. In light of recent and, in part, indiscriminate allegations, German U15 point out that universities successfully conduct a very large number of doctoral degree procedures at a highly scientific level every year in which professors and doctoral candidates work together in a trustful and responsible manner. Misconduct is certainly the exception rather than the rule.
German U15 points to the following rules of good scientific practice in doctoral degree procedures, taking into account the standards agreed upon with the DFG in 1998.
1. Quality assurance in doctoral degree procedures
1.1 Doctoral candidates are those who are registered as doctoral candidates at the university / appropriate faculty.
1.2 The status of a doctoral candidate is conferred after having ascertained the candidates' qualification in their chosen discipline and their personal aptitude. Doctoral candidates are supervised by one or more advisers. This applies equally to individual doctoral degree procedures as well as structured doctoral degree programmes.
1.3 A supervision agreement is concluded with every doctoral candidate. This agreement ensures that candidates receive the required academic support and access to the university's resources in the first phase of independent research.
1.3.1 An agreement on the level of supervision that defines the intervals or occasions at which counselling sessions with the adviser(s) are to take place.
1.3.2 A definition of the accompanying study plan. This plan may be individual or based on the curricula of graduate programmes, academies or schools.
1.3.3 A bilateral commitment to observe and respect the rules of good scientific practice.
1.4 The doctoral thesis must be read and assessed by at least two experts within a reasonable time period. Other details, including the obligation to publish theses or the standards of publication-based (cumulative) theses, are defined by the doctoral degree regulations.
1.5 The doctoral thesis must account for a significant part of the oral examination. A defence is preferable to the doctoral viva. In any case, and regardless of the chosen form, the examination must be taken down in minutes.
1.6 The primary criteria for the assessment of doctoral theses and in oral examinations are always quality and originality.
1.7 All doctoral degree regulations must provide for an ombudsperson. This person may be called on to mediate disputes. The ombudspersons must be elected by the university senate.
2. Principles to be followed in assessing adherence to the rules of good scientific practice in doctoral degree procedures
The rules of good scientific practice must not only be obeyed during the preparation of doctoral theses and the awarding of doctoral degrees, but also during the subsequent assessment procedures. Great care and procedural correctness must be applied to both legal part of the procedure and to the application process of scientific and subject-related rules for the assessment of accusations made by the universities’ corresponding bodies and panels in case of scientific misconduct.
The established principles of scientific assessment include:
2.1 The university should define which actions and circumstances are to be classified as scientific misconduct;
2.2 A clear division of responsibilities for the assessment;
2.3 The right of accused persons to be heard and give detailed statements before the concerned university boards and panels concerned.
2.4 Obtaining at least two independent expert opinions if such opinions are required for factual or legal reasons. This two-(or more)-man-rule ensures the factual quality of the decision and the independence of the assessors, simultaneously while allowing them to share the responsibility of the assessment.
2.5 Ensuring that the experts providing opinions are not biased and
2.6 Ensuring that independent, external experts are recruited if deemed necessary according to the circumstances of the case. This applies if
- the case is not a routine procedure,
- there is a shortage of independent expertise among the concerned faculty (e.g. in the case of small departments).
2.7 Ensuring that the experts providing opinions are not the ones to make the final decision.
2.8 A critical analysis of the counselling provided by the advisers associated with the case in question.
2.9 Keeping the results of the assessment procedures strictly confidential until the decision is announced, for the sake of all parties concerned.
2.10 Completing assessment procedures within a reasonable time period.
2.11 Imposing the appropriate sanctions depending on the level of misconduct.
2.12 Communicating and justifying the assessment, as well as any consequences thereof in a suitable manner.