Outside professional activities (OPA) create potential conflicts of interest or commitment. When pursuing OPA, follow all Institute guidelines, discuss the activities with your department head, and report them to MIT and to any research sponsors as required.

Definitions

  • Institutional responsibilities: responsibilities associated with an individual’s MIT appointment or position, such as research; teaching; administration; conference attendance, research presentations or lectures at other universities or uncompensated publication review; and service on MIT committees.
  • Outside professional activities (OPA): compensated and uncompensated activities undertaken outside of an investigator’s Institutional responsibilities. These activities should be ‘separate and distinct’ from institutional responsibilities.

Discuss and report OPA

Pursuing OPA may lead to conflicts of interest or commitment if not appropriately reviewed. Avoiding conflicts of interest or commitment is especially critical when OPA are related to institutional responsibilities, or when OPA are with international entities.

Discuss anticipated OPA

Before pursuing any OPA, discuss the activity and the potential for conflict of interest or commitment with your department head and the COI Officer. If the OPA involves signing a contract with an entity outside the U.S., also seek advice from the MIT Office of General Counsel before signing.

Report previous and ongoing OPA

Faculty should report OPA through the MIT OPA reporting process, as well as in their COI disclosures and disclosures to research sponsors.

The MIT OPA reporting process takes place each spring, collecting information on activities from the preceding academic year and summer months. In your report, include:

  • Any OPA that has the potential to cause a conflict of interest or commitment, or interfere with institutional responsibilities
  • Any involvement of MIT personnel or use of MIT facilities in OPA
  • Any previous discussion of the OPA with your department head or COI officer, including formal management plans

You do not need to disclose specific compensation amounts in your OPA report.

Examples of outside professional activities

  • All engagement with foreign entities (including foreign government agencies, institutes of higher education, research institutes affiliated with institutes of higher education, academic teaching hospitals, medical centers, and informal collaborations intended to result in publications, may include any exchange of materials and or personnel and are not carried out under a formal agreement.)
  • Consulting for a company, university, or other entity, including service as an expert witness, foreign or domestic
  • Part-time employment or appointment at a company, university, government agency or other entity (including while on leave from MIT), foreign or domestic
  • Membership on a corporate, technical, scientific or advisory board, including serving on a Board of Directors, foreign or domestic
  • Speaking at corporate or other conferences or seminars for which you receive compensation more than a standard de minimis honorarium (i.e. <$1000K), foreign or domestic
  • Providing commissioned papers or reports, foreign or domestic, compensated or not compensated.
  • Providing professional services on industry publications, review boards or panels
  • Compensated service on for-profit journal publications (e.g., Nature, Elsevier or similar)
  • Teaching/lecturing outside MIT, at universities or companies, in degree or non-degree programs
  • Participating in any talent or other academic recruitment program for a company, university, government, or other entity, including in exchange for support in the form of research funding, lab facilities or research staff, or in connection with the receipt of an honorarium, monetary prize, or other compensation. N.B.: Red flags for a malign talent program are: You may have entered into an agreement with a program directly instead of through MIT; the focus of the program may be replicating your U.S. funded research programs; or you may have been asked not to disclose the engagement, or specific terms of the engagement, to MIT or U.S. sponsors of your research
  • Teaching in MIT’s executive, professional, international, or other special or summer programs
  • Carrying out research with any individual or group of individuals, foreign or domestic, in such a manner that does not carry commitment, exchanges of goods, or any other material advantage.
  • Participating in a workshop or similar gathering that focuses on discussion and development of research ideas and does not carry a commitment, exchanges of goods, or any other material advantage.
  • Speaking at (research presentation, lecture) academic conferences or seminars at U.S. federal, state or local governmental agencies; U.S. institutes of higher education (e.g., Harvard, Stanford); U.S. research institutes affiliated with institutes of higher education (e.g. Whitehead Institute and Broad Institute), academic teaching hospitals, and medical centers (e.g. MGH, Children’s Hospital)
  • Serving on advisory committees or review panels, for U.S. federal, state, or local governmental agencies; U.S. institutes of higher education (e.g., Harvard, Stanford); U.S. research institutes affiliated with institutes of higher education (e.g. Whitehead Institute and Broad Institute), academic teaching hospitals, and medical centers (e.g. MGH, Children’s Hospital)
  • Service to professional societies (e.g., American Chemical Society and AAAS)
  • Uncompensated or compensated service on professional society or peer reviewed non-profit journals (e.g., Science, PNAS, AAAS journals and similar)

Institute guidelines and policies

Everyone must discuss and report OPA to manage conflicts of interest and commitment.

Using Institute time

Anyone may pursue outside professional activities on their own time, but faculty and others with consulting privileges may use Institute time for OPA.

  • Faculty may use approximately 39 days a year (20% of their Institute time) for OPA. Faculty includes all assistant, associate and full professors; professors post-tenure; and all ranks of full-time adjunct professors, professors of the practice, and visiting professors.
  • Principal research scientists, engineers, and associates may use 20 days of Institute time per year for OPA.

For more information, see 4.3 Full-Time Service and 4.5 Outside Professional Activities.

Faculty may use 20% of their Institute time for OPA. Principal research scientists, principal engineers and principal associates can use 10% of their Institute time for OPA. All other employees use 100% of their Institute time for Institute responsibilities.

OPA while on leave

OPA must be reported even if conducted while on sabbatical or other (paid or unpaid, partial or full) leave. Although on leave, you are still an MIT employee with institutional responsibilities. See 4.5 Outside Professional Activities for more information.

OPA while on a visa

If you are an MIT staff member working on a visa, talk to ISchO before pursuing OPA.

Involvement of other MIT personnel or resources

Avoid involving current students or subordinate staff in OPA. Including students and MIT personnel in OPA could create a conflict of interest, especially if you are advising a student’s thesis without a co-advisor or thesis committee.

However, if being involved with a faculty member’s OPA would benefit a student’s educational experience, discuss the possibility with your department head and the COI officer. They may be able to develop a plan to mitigate the risk of a conflict of interest before you engage with the student.

Using MIT labs or specialized facilities to support OPA is prohibited. Using core facilities in OPA is allowable, as long you comply with the facility’s terms and conditions. 

Incidental use of your MIT-issued laptop to support OPA is acceptable. However, any company information stored on your laptop or backed up on MIT servers belongs to MIT.

Considerations

During sabbatical or other leave, faculty may accept temporary or visiting appointments for that period at other institutions. Very rarely, faculty may be allowed to accept an ongoing professorship (e.g., adjunct). Appointments like this must receive dean and provost approval before acceptance.

Before accepting any external appointment, faculty should:

  • Discuss the possibility with their department head and dean.
  • Understand the external institution’s policies and any local rules governing academic activities, intellectual property and employment. Seek legal representation or a translator, if necessary.
  • Discuss the terms and duration of the engagement with the external institution, especially if outside the U.S.
  • Discuss export control risks with MIT Export Control, if the appointment is outside the U.S.
  • Review COI guidance on adjunct professorships
  • Assess and mitigate risks

Review COI guidance on starting a company to understand the potential for conflicts of interest or commitment.

Avoid international OPA with the following entities:

  • Those principally involved with defense research or production.
  • Those involved with government intelligence or military operations.
  • Those whose activities and/or products and services have been credibly viewed as contributing to the suppression of human rights.
  • “Talent recruitment” programs designed primarily to transfer technology or knowledge to a foreign entity
  • Those in countries of concern

In addition, OPA that extend, complement or duplicate MIT-administered research sponsored by U.S. government agencies raise concerns for the Institute and our research partners. Before pursuing international activities, assess risks and consult Global Support Resources.

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