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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

How can we get mentors and trainees talking about ethical challenges?

 


When it comes to research integrity, the international community often tends to focus on the incidence of research misconduct and the presumption that the remedy is to have more training in responsible conduct of research. Unfortunately, published evidence largely argues that these perceptions are demonstrably wrong. Specifically, formal training in courses and workshops is much less likely to be a factor in researcher behavior than what is observed and learned in the context of the research environment (Whitbeck, 2001; Faden et al., 2002; Kalichman, 2014).

These research findings should not be surprising. Most of an academic or research career is defined by actually conducting research and working with research colleagues. The idea that a single course or workshop will somehow insulate a researcher from unethical or questionable behavior, or arm them with the skills to deal with such behavior, would seem to be a hard case to make. That isn’t to say that there is no value in such training, but the possible impact is likely far less than what is conveyed by the research experience itself. With that in mind, the question is how, if at all, can research mentors be encouraged to integrate ethical discussions and reflections into the context of the day-to-day research experience?

With this as a challenge, we have been testing several approaches at UC San Diego in California to move conversations about RCR out of the classroom and into the research environment. With support from the US National Science Foundation, this project began with a 3-day conference comprised of ~20 leaders in the field of research integrity (Plemmons and Kalichman, 2017). Our goal was to develop a curriculum for a workshop in which participating faculty would acquire tools and resources to incorporate RCR conversations into the fabric of the research environment. Based on consensus from the conference participants, a curriculum was drafted, refined with input from experts and potential users, and finalized for pilot testing. Following two successful workshops for faculty at UC San Diego, the curriculum was rolled out for further testing nationally with interested faculty.

The focus of the workshop curriculum was five strategies participating faculty might use with members of their research groups. These included discussions revolving around (1) a relevant professional code of conduct, (2) creation of a checklist of things to be covered at specified times with all trainees, (3) real or fictional research cases defined by ethical challenges, (4) creation of individual development plans defining roles and responsibilities of the mentor and trainees, and (5) developing a group policy regarding definitions, roles, and responsibilities with respect to some dimension of practice particularly relevant to the research group. In all cases, the goal is to create opportunities that will make conversations about the responsible conduct of research an intentional part of the normal research environment.

The results of this project were encouraging, but still leave much to be done (Kalichman and Plemmons, 2017). Workshops were provided for over 90 faculty, who were strongly complimentary of the program and the approach. In surveys of the faculty and their trainees after the workshops, there were high levels of agreement that the five proposed strategies were feasible, relevant, and effective. However, while use of all five strategies was high post-workshop, we surprisingly found that trainees reported high levels of use pre-workshop as well. In retrospect, this should have been expected. Since workshops were voluntary, it is likely that faculty who attended were largely those already positively disposed to discussing responsible conduct with their trainees. One question worth asking is whether repeating workshops for interested faculty only will have a cascading effect over time, drawing in increasing numbers of faculty and serving to shift the culture. Also, it remains to be tested whether these workshops would be useful if faculty were required to attend.

For those interested in implementing these workshops in their own institutions, the curriculum, template examples and an instructor’s guide are all available on the Resources for Research Ethics Education website at: http://research-ethics.org/educational-settings/research-context.

References

Faden RR, Klag MJ, Kass NE, Krag SS (2002): On the Importance of Research Ethics and Mentoring. American Journal of Bioethics 4(2): 50-51.

Kalichman M (2014): A Modest Proposal to Move RCR Education Out of the Classroom and into Research. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 15(2):93–95.

Kalichman MW, Plemmons DK (2017): Intervention to Promote Responsible Conduct of Research Mentoring. Science and Engineering Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9929-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Plemmons DK, Kalichman MW (2017): Mentoring for Responsible Research: The Creation of a Curriculum for Faculty to Teach RCR in the Research Environment. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9897-z. [Epub ahead of print]

Whitbeck C (2001): Group mentoring to foster the responsible conduct of research. Science and Engineering Ethics 7(4):541-58.

Contributors
Michael Kalichman – Director, Research Ethics Program, UC San Diego | University biomkalichman@ucsd.edu

Dena Plemmons | University of California, Riverside | University page

This post may be cited as:
Kalichman M. and Plemmons D. (2017, 21 December 2017) How can we get mentors and trainees talking about ethical challenges? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/can-get-mentors-trainees-talking-ethical-challenges



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