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The following comment refers to this/these guideline(s)

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.

Responsibilities of the head of a work unit in the life sciences

Planning projects and writing publications account for much of the research activity, as does reviewing and evaluating scientific publications and projects. The head of a work unit has a particular responsibility to provide researchers with the necessary skills and experience at an early stage. They must also ensure that an early career researcher’s independent work contributions are visible and appreciated. Particular attention should be paid to striking an appropriate balance between substantial, comprehensive publications and those that are realistic in an early career phase in terms of scope and complexity. In order to ensure that valid research results are developed during the training phase, experimentation and analysis require close guidance when it comes to controls, statistical analyses and image processing. An early introduction to ethical and legal issues is especially important during this phase. Here, a quality management system can be helpful in organising the appropriate process support.

It is essential that the work unit creates a culture in which an open approach to errors and ignorance can develop or be maintained as well as a self-critical attitude. This also includes raising awareness of potential conflicts of interest. Such a culture is a key prerequisite for the prevention of research misconduct.

One particular aspect in the life sciences is research conducted by clinically active researchers. Those engaged in both patient care and research are particularly well placed to enable an effective transfer between the two. For this reason, it is the responsibility of management in these areas to give medical doctors the time to pursue research activities in addition to their clinical duties. The recommendation here is to make use of established (advanced) clinician-scientist programmes so as to provide the necessary freedom for research.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL4 (Life sciences)