While most academic training includes discussion and description of academic codes of honor - including outright fraud (cheating) and plagiarism - we have begun to include instruction in research ethics as part of our formal undergraduate curriculum. Research ethics are critical to the advancement of science as they provide a framework within which scientists can share their ideas and knowledge in a fair and professional manner, and include topics such as proper (and timely) reporting of data, authorship, and professional behavior. Traditionally, students learn research ethics through informal mentoring with their research advisors. However, a more formal approach is encouraged by funding agencies, professional societies, and common sense. At IU, we are responding by incorporating discussions of ethics into our undergraduate classes, as well as organizing special ethics seminars for research students.
Our ethics program is built around a “case study” approach. Students are given scenarios involving real life situations that they are likely to encounter as undergraduates or beginning graduate students, and are asked to discuss possible resolutions of the ethical questions involved. Discussion topics include reporting data, data rights, credit for ideas, and professional behavior. The answers are not clear-cut, and students must grapple with shades of gray to help them define what the limits of ethical behavior are. Students also read and discuss the booklet “On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research,” published by the National Academy of Sciences.
Scenarios for graduate students involve ethical concerns more appropriate for their career stage, including conflicts of interest, authorship, and collaboration.