Initial Publication Date: June 11, 2018

Codes of Conduct

What is a Code of Conduct?

Codes of conduct are a set of guidelines adopted by an organization to address what behaviors are expected and appropriate. All universities should have personnel codes of conduct. Have you read your institution's code of conduct?

Historically, scientific societies' codes of conduct most likely addressed traditional definitions of research ethics, including plagiarism, data fabrication, and authorship disputes, and may have had an events' code of conduct to ensure a safe and respectful environment at meetings and conferences.

We recently surveyed websites of member societies of the American Geosciences Institute in September 2016 prior to a National Science Foundation workshop to address shortcomings in how the scientific community was responding to the problem of sexual harassment. At the time, only two of 50 AGI member society codes specifically addressed sexual harassment; a year and a half later, that number increased to eight. The number of AGI member societies with a code of conduct accessible on their website also increased post-workshop. While this response shows a clear improvement, too few codes of conduct include mechanisms for their enforcement and protection for those who report.

Read more: Schneider, B., M.A. Holmes and E. Marin-Spiotta. 2018. Sexual harassment in the Sciences: Response by Professional Societies AGI Currents # 125.

What makes for an effective code of conduct?

An effective code of conduct:

  • Identifies and defines appropriate and inappropriate behaviors
  • Goes beyond ethical treatment of data to include the treatment of people
  • Clearly specifies reporting and investigative procedures
  • Outlines disciplinary action for conduct violations
  • Includes protection against retaliation
  • Has built in mechanism for continued re-evaluation of its effectiveness and for its revision

For example, in 2017 the American Geophysical Union (AGU) adopted a new code of conduct that defined harassment, bullying, and discrimination as research misconduct; expanding it to include a set of principles and practices for professional behavior that governs all AGU members and participants in all AGU program activities, including Honors and Awards, and AGU governance.

Read AGU's Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy

Check out our tips for effective codes of conduct for field research and training environments.

Sample Codes of Conduct

For Academic Departments

Meetings and Events

Professional Societies

Field Research, Stations and Courses

Read more about field codes of conduct.

See also: Dave Mogk's compiled list of professional societies' mission statements & codes of ethics.

How to Write a Code of Conduct

Writing a code of conduct from scratch can appear to be a daunting task and, therefore, is much easier to borrow language already present at a university departments and field sites as well as professional societies. The University of Alaska Fairbanks - Toolik Field Station's Sexual Misconduct Policy developed by Brie Van Dam provides an excellent example.

The blanks can be filled with the name of your university department, workplace, and/or field site: