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Jack Fry's Interview


Authoring Institution Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE)

This case raises two primary issues: data sharing and recognition of the contributions of others, along with issues of collaboration, intellectual contribution and authorship.

From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 1, 1997 
edited by Brian Schrag

Jack Fry was a chemical engineering post-doc in Dr Hill's lab, a multidisciplinary group of engineers, biologists and medical doctors. Jack had joined Hill's lab to improve his marketability for an academic position by gaining valuable research skills in the biological sciences.

During his two year stay, Jack had collaborated with a surgeon in the group to test the utility of an experimental drug delivery system (DDS) in rats. DDS, developed by others in Hill's lab, delivered a toxic substance specifically to cancer cells, leaving non-cancerous cells intact. Jack and the surgeon were the first to test the effectiveness of DDS in living animals. They co-wrote a paper describing their initial findings; happily, a reputable journal has just accepted the paper for publication.

Jack was now close to the end of his post-doctoral fellowship, and was once again actively seeking a faculty position in a chemical engineering department. Apparently his work in Hill's lab had improved his resume, because he immediately received an invitation to interview at a prestigious university. As part of the interview process, Jack was expected to give a 45-minute presentation in which he would discuss his research and conclude with his future research plans. Jack diligently prepared the presentation and gave a practice talk to his peers at the lab. The most common criticism was that Jack did not have enough engineering in his presentation, and that he should "find" some engineering to add to his talk to maximize his chances of getting hired.

Jack approached Bob, a graduate student in the Hill lab, who had thoroughly studied and characterized the mechanism of DDS for the past two years and reported his need for more engineering material for his interview presentation. Bob began studying DDS about one year after its initial development, and had developed a detailed mathematical model of the system, including the mass transport of the drug to the cancer cells, the kinetics of cellular uptake of the drug, and the subsequent cell death. While developing the mathematical model, Bob had, on several occasions, received helpful advice and guidance from Jack, who had extensive experience in mathematical modeling. Bob was very grateful for Jack's help, and had thanked him publicly in the acknowledgment section of the paper that had recently been accepted for publication.

Bob graciously agreed to help Jack. He spent an afternoon with Jack, discussing the mathematical model and bringing him up to speed on its details. Bob even loaned Jack some slides he had just made in preparation for an upcoming conference at which Bob would discuss his mathematical model. Jack thanked him for his help, and quickly updated his seminar presentation with Bob's mathematical model.

At the interview, Jack presented his animal model data in conjunction with Bob's mathematical model. Jack did not mention Bob or the surgeon who had helped him conduct the animal studies in his talk, but his last slide, entitled "Acknowledgments", did list Bob and the surgeon as contributors to the work. The department, very impressed with the wide range of Jack's skills and the depth of his analysis of DDS, offered him a tenure track position.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does Jack have an obligation to acknowledge Bob's contribution to the mathematical model? If so, did Jack satisfy this obligation? Would Jack's acknowledgment have changed if Bob had been in the audience?
  2. Are decisions concerning attribution entirely Jack's responsibility? Should he consult others? How can one ensure that the work of professional colleagues is properly identified in an oral presentation? What, if any, were Hill's responsibilities in preparing Jack for his presentation?
  3. Who else does Jack have obligations to? What are these obligations? Does Jack satisfy these obligations?
  4. To what extent does a presentation at an interview resemble a publication? To what extent does it differ?
  5. Did Jack misrepresent his own expertise and/or his own work on the project? What if his Ph.D. work had been all experimental and involved no mathematical modeling?
  6. What, if any, are the obligations of the interviewers? Should they probe Jack's level of expertise? Is the type of lab Jack comes from likely to influence their evaluation of Jack's work?

What about Bob? Consider these alternative scenarios

  • Bob gives Jack the data with the implicit understanding that when Bob is looking for a job next year, he can use Jack's experimental data in his interview presentations.
  • Bob is uncomfortable giving away data he hasn't presented; he feels it is his work, not Jack's. Nevertheless, Bob feels he must let Jack use his data. If he refuses, others in the lab may see Bob as disloyal and not a team player.
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Contributor(s) Brian Schrag
Notes Brian Schrag, ed., Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries, Volume 1, Bloomington, Indiana: Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, 1997
Share with EEL Yes
Funder NSF
Rights The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) grants permission to use these case and commentary material with the citation indicated above.
Volume 1
Year 1997
Publisher Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
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  • Posted 10 years and 9 months ago

    Commentary: Jack Fry's Interview

    P. Aarne Vesilind 

    Duke University

    There is a big difference between engineering and science, even though engineers often work in the same environment with scientists. By their nature and training, engineers seek to "make things work" or "make knowledge useful." They are far less likely to seek personal credit, because the true joy in engineering is watching something happen, creating something that was not there before.

    When Jack presented his seminar to the Chemical Engineering Department, the engineers in the audience did not care nearly as much about who did something as they marveled at what was accomplished. The important thing was the fact that Jack was able to put it all together, to tell a whole story, even if parts of it were written by others.

    Obviously, Jack should have acknowledged the contributions of Bob and his mentor, and to fail to do so would have been an oversight. But the job interview seminar is quite different from a formal presentation at a national conference, and the credit given with the concluding slide would be considered appropriate in these circumstances.

    In summary, Jack is not guilty of unethical conduct. The important lesson to take away from this case, however, is that acknowledging the contributions of your colleagues does not subtract from your own work, especially if you are synthesizing the information and telling the whole story of how you (plural) "made things work."

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 1, 1997 

    edited by Brian Schrag

  • Posted 10 years and 9 months ago

    Participant Commentary: Jack Fry's Interview

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 1, 1997 

    edited by Brian Schrag

    This case raises two primary issues: data sharing and recognition of the contributions of others. The first issue concerns when it is appropriate to share the work of one's colleagues. Jack has procured Bob's work,integrated it with his own material, and presented it as one cohesive unit. Whether that is appropriate depends on the standards within Hill's lab as well as on the standards throughout the scientific community, in particular the standards that the interviewers expect their job candidates to adhere to. If the standards for sharing the work of a colleague are not explicitly stated, the door is open for abuse. It could be argued that Hill has an obligation to set explicit standards within his lab for data sharing to prevent problems such as the one that has arisen in Jack Fry's case.

    Another point to consider is the power disparity between Jack and Bob. Jack is a post-doctoral fellow, and Bob is a graduate student. Because Jack is in many ways Bob's superior, Bob may have felt he had to comply with Jack's request for his materials. If Bob didn't comply, he may have been ostracized by other members of the lab as disloyal, and, ultimately, his career prospects could have been jeopardized. It is unethical for Jack to impose the arrangement on Bob if Bob was complying simply because he felt he had to show his loyalty to the lab. Again, it is worth pointing out that if Hill had explicit rules for sharing work amongst colleagues within his lab, these problems could have been avoided. It is particularly important to establish such criteria in a highly interdisciplinary lab such as Hill's, where every project is conducted with the help of several people.

    The lack of explicit rules for sharing data, both in Hill's lab and throughout the profession in general, raises another interesting question: What are the expectations of Jack's interviewers? They are from a chemical engineering department where interdisciplinary work is probably much less common. Are they aware of how Hill's lab is run? Are they aware that each project is the work of several people, or do they expect Jack to present only his own work, unless otherwise explicitly stated? In the absence of explicit standards for data sharing, Jack has an obligation to the interviewers, Bob and the other candidates for the job, to clearly define his contributions and the contributions of others to the work he presented. In addition, the interviewers have an obligation to Jack, Bob, the department, the university and the other candidates for the job, to determine Jack's contribution to the work presented in his talk.

    If Jack does not explicitly declare Bob's contribution, he is deceiving the interviewers. If his deception is found out, Jack risks a marred reputation and a loss of his colleagues' trust. Even if he is not found out, he will have to live with himself as a deceiver, which may erode his sense of integrity and self-confidence. Alternatively, he may decide that his behavior was acceptable, and may repeat his deception later or extend it to more serious breaches of integrity. He may spread his tactics throughout the engineering profession by training his students to adopt the same strategy in their presentations.

    If the interviewers fail to determine the degree of Jack's contribution to the work he presented, they may hire Jack and not a more capable candidate who did not embellish his talk with the work of others. This would rob future students, the university and the scientific community of the best possible professor and researcher for their money. To clarify this point, suppose the interviewers only really liked the mathematical model portion of the talk, or suppose the department only had the resources for mathematical modeling and not for biological studies. In this case, they would have hired Jack specifically for work he had no direct role in producing.

    The other issue raised by this case is proper recognition. Again, if explicit norms existed, problems would be less likely to occur. Recognition requires both permission and citation. Jack apparently had permission, since Bob helped him prepare for the talk and loaned Jack his slides. It is possible, however, that Bob was coerced into providing Jack with permission, in light of his vulnerable position as a graduate student in Hill's lab.

    The question of permission aside, did Jack properly recognize Bob's contribution? One way of answering this question is to consider whether Bob would have been satisfied with Jack's acknowledgment slide if he had been in the audience during Jack's presentation.

    Added insight into this case can be gleaned by considering various paradigm cases. First, consider the level of Bob's permission. If Bob were in a higher power position than Jack and had given Jack permission to use his materials, Jack's use of the materials could be considered completely ethical. Alternatively, if Jack had taken Bob's materials without his knowledge (for example while Bob was on vacation), then Jack would have been using the material without Bob's permission and therefore would have been acting unethically.

    A second set of paradigm cases concerns the level of Jack's contribution to Bob's mathematical model. If Jack was so involved in deriving the mathematical model that he was a co-author of the paper, then his use of the mathematical model in his talk would be ethical, because much of the work would have been his own. Alternatively, if Jack had never helped Bob with the mathematical model, then Jack's use of the mathematical model would be unethical, unless he clearly stated that he had not been involved in its development.

    Finally, it is useful to consider the adequacy of Jacks recognition of Bob's contribution to the mathematical model. If Jack clearly stated that Bob derived the mathematical model when the first slide discussing the mathematical model was brought up, than Jack would have acted ethically. If Jack did not acknowledge Bob's contribution at all, even in a final acknowledgment slide, than Jack would have acted unethically.

    Considering the arguments and comments above, a creative solution to Jack's problem can be offered. Jack clearly wishes to come across to his interviewers as a competent engineer. He has already established his competence in his graduate studies, in which he had extensive mathematical modeling experience. If he desires, Jack could provide the interviewers with copies of his graduate school work to demonstrate his mathematical modeling capabilities. Jack should use Bob's mathematical model to illustrate the application of engineering principles to the DDS problem. Jack should explicitly state that Bob developed the mathematical model. By demonstrating his fluency with modeling, Jack will show his capabilities as an engineer and demonstrate how engineering can be applied to the DDS problem. Most important, he can emphasize his ability to work with others in a multidisciplinary environment to provide a complete understanding of a complex problem, by conducting both mathematical and experimental analyses. By being forthright and honest in his representation of his skills and accomplishments, Jack can satisfy his obligations to himself for career advancement, to Bob for proper recognition of his work, and to his interviewers and the other candidates for the faculty position.

Cite this page: "Jack Fry's Interview" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 2/16/2006 OEC Accessed: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 <>