Research Context

Author: Michael Kalichman, 2009-2010

Ongoing education in the context of the research environment is likely to be the most appropriate and effective means to promote research ethics.

One of the most important mechanisms by which knowledge is passed from one generation to the next is mentoring. In the sense that a mentor is an individual who has succeeded by overcoming the hurdles to success, he or she is in the best position to help a trainee face those same hurdles. Mentoring might include many topics, one of which is the responsible conduct of research or research ethics. Unfortunately, such mentoring is infrequent or even non-existent (Swazey and Anderson, 1996; Brown and Kalichman, 1998).

Although one-on-one mentoring is an important part of graduate student training, much of training in practice occurs in the context of research groups. Very little has been written about teaching research ethics in this setting, but it is clear that much can and should be learned about the roles, responsibilities, and joys of science through the process of conducting research.

Opportunities, in context, for teaching about and discussing research ethics include, for example:

  • Handouts and Guidelines:
    Materials provided to members of research group to highlight standards and practices.
  • Regular Individual Meetings:
    Periodic conversations allow for issues to be addressed as they come up and over time.
  • Journal Clubs:
    Regularly scheduled group meetings to discuss the discipline-specific literature are a frequent feature in many areas of research and an excellent opportunity to also address literature for which research ethics issues are either raised explicitly or can be found by way of example.
  • Research Lecture Series:
    Research groups or departments often schedule regular research lectures, which present an opportunity for either addressing ethics issues of particular importance to the discipline, or for researchers to raise questions with one another about the ethical concerns raised by the conduct of their research.
  • Group Discussion to Generate Policies:
    One effective way to raise awareness of appropriate standards of conduct is to challenge members of a research group to collaborate in developing their own guidelines or standards.
  • Recommended Readings:
    Mentors and research colleagues can foster an environment of thoughtful discussion and reflection, in part, by recommending readings such as those included on this website.

  • Brown S, Kalichman MW (1998): Effects of training in the responsible conduct of research: A survey of graduate students in experimental science. Science and Engineering Ethics 4: 487-498.
  • Swazey JP, Anderson MS (1996): Mentors, advisors, and role models in graduate and professional education. Association of Academic Health Centers, Washington, DC.