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Guideline 4

Responsibility of the heads of research work units

The head of a research work unit is responsible for the entire unit. Collaboration within the unit is designed such that the group as a whole can perform its tasks, the necessary cooperation and coordination can be achieved, and all members understand their roles, rights and duties. The leadership role includes ensuring adequate individual supervision of early career researchers, integrated in the overall institutional policy, as well as career development for researchers and research support staff. Suitable organisational measures are in place at the level of the individual unit and of the leadership of the institution to prevent the abuse of power and exploitation of dependent relationships.


The size and the organisation of the unit are designed to allow leadership tasks, particularly skills training, research support and supervisory duties, to be performed appropriately. The performance of leadership tasks is associated with a corresponding responsibility. Researchers and research support staff benefit from a balance of support and personal responsibility appropriate to their career level. They are given adequate status with corresponding rights of participation. Through gradually increasing autonomy, they are empowered to shape their career.

Avoidance of the abuse of power

The abuse of power in academia is not commonplace, but it does happen. There are many levels at which the abuse of power can occur in academia. For this reason, a key component of good academic work is avoiding the spaces and structures that give rise to opportunities for the abuse of power, dependent relationships and (supervision) conflicts. Prevention requires awareness-raising at all levels of the staff of a research institution – if necessary based on a code of conduct – as well as organisational measures at institutional level. The latter include establishing independent, confidential counselling bodies and competent prosecution bodies as well as joint supervision of doctoral researchers (doctoral committees) and written supervision agreements.

The structural and personal dependence of early career researchers often tends to result from precarious employment relationships (the large number of fixed-term employees in the academic sector). By contrast, professors are generally tenured. Given this situation, effective means to compensate for this imbalance include establishing a transparent feedback culture, ensuring professional preparation for leadership roles in academia and providing ongoing training (e.g. on unconscious bias).

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL4 (General)