The Supervisor-Trainee Relationship
Author(s): Caroline Whitbeck
Background and Module Content
The relationship between trainees and their research supervisors is usually formative for the trainee. This is especially true when the research supervision occurs over a extended period and when the research is the trainee's main activity. A similar situation holds true for doctoral students and their dissertation supervisors or post doctoral fellows or associates and their sponsors, but applies also to other trainees, such as residents, medical fellows, and bachelor's and master's students.
Trainees learn many positive and negative lessons about responsible research conduct from observing and interacting with their supervisors. Unfortunately negative lessons can be learned from misunderstood behavior and/or bad behavior. It is important that supervisors be able to discuss with their trainees how and why their research is conducted as it is. Institutions have a role in facilitating those discussions.
Supervisors often function as mentors. A mentor is not only a research supervisor, but also an example or source of guidance about professional development and how to cope with a host of responsibilities that attend being a research investigator. Fulfillment of those responsibilities includes not only skills in: writing and reviewing papers, lab management, grant writing, job seeking, and the management of time and commitments, but also the development of ethical judgment and standards for treating others fairly. Along with this comes simultaneously meeting responsibilities for: education of students, advancement in one's field, colleagues and collaborators, one's institution and one's funding agencies.
It is the fortunate doctoral student or post doc who has a true mentor as his or her supervisor. The task of the would-be mentor is more difficult if he or she was not well-mentored in his or her own trainee period. Group mentoring and peer mentoring, including discussions of how to cope with difficult situations may help a lab , department, or institution identify key values and standards and transmit good ways of meeting those standards that are appropriate to the conditions of research in one's field.
More on mentoring of junior faculty or advisory committees
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Method and Scenarios
Distribution of scenarios and related discussion questions to the students and faculty.
Panel discussion based on those scenarios and questions and any others that students or faculty wish to add.
Thes additional scenarios can be used to focus on Working Relationships in the Lab, aspects of the relationship between two or more colleagues in a research lab, or other issues such as authorship and data management.
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Reading (recommended for discussion of the scenarios)
- To have an open and candid discussion of potentially sensitive topics and thus establish that all matters of research conduct are discussable and strengthen trust within the research group.
- Improved understanding of the mutual responsibilities of supervisors and trainees.
- Establish some agreed upon methods suitable to the particular research group for resolving conflicts and misunderstandings when they arise.
Selected Bibliography (for further reading)
Bird, S.J. and Sprague, R.L. (eds.), Mentoring and the Responsible Conduct of Research, Science and Engineering Research, Volume 7, No. 4, 2001, 449-640; Opragen Publications, Guildford, Surrey, UK. (Contents and abstracts can be viewed at http://www.opragen.co.uk)
Bird, Stephanie J. (1994), "Overlooked aspects in the education of science professionals: Mentoring, ethics, and professional responsibility." J. Science Education and Technology 3: 49-55.
Fort, Deborah, Bird, Stephanie J. and Didion, Catherine J., eds. (1993), "A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science." Washington, D.C.: Assoc. for Women in Science.
Gorovitz, Samuel (1998), "Ethical issues in graduate education." Science & Engineering Ethics 4: 235-250.
Hall, R.M. & Sandler, B.R. (1983), Academic mentoring for women students and faculty: A new look at an old way to get ahead. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges.
National Academy of Sciences (1997), Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
For further reading please see the additional Annotated Bibliography
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Relevant Web Resources
- The Endocrine Society Ethics Advisory Committee, Ethical Aspects of Conflicts of Interest
- Will download a PDF. This review includes information on conflicts of interest both for the organization at large as well as for individual clinician and researcher members.
- Publication Ethics: Rights and Wrongs
- Science and Technology Article from November 12, 2001 about how balancing obligations and interests surrounding dissemination of research is an ardous task.
- Reflections on Determining Authorship Credit and Authorship Order on Faculty-Student Collaborations"
- By Mark A. Fine and Lawrence A. Kurdek. "The purpose of this article is to explore the process of determining authorship credit and authorship order on collaborative publications with students. The article presents hypothetical cases that describe relevant ethical issues, highlights ethical principles that could provide assistance in addressing these dilemmas, and makes recommendations to faculty who collaborate with students on scholarly projects."
- "Publication Ethics: Rights and Wrongs"
- By Stephen K. Ritter, Chemical & Engineering News, Washington. Science & Technology, November 12, 2001, Volume 79, Number 46, CENEAR 79 46 pp. 24-31,ISSN 0009-2347. Balancing obligations and interests surrounding dissemination of research is an arduous task. Integrity and trust. these values are the hallmarks of the scientific discovery and publication process. Being objective is critical to this process, because communicating one's research to the scientific community is at the heart of what keeps science alive. It's also the principal way that scientists make their reputations, get jobs and promotions, and obtain sustained research support."
- Conflicts of Interest: Dilemmas and Conundrums
- A resource on how to deal with conflicts of interest
Cite this page:
"The Supervisor-Trainee Relationship"
Online Ethics Center for Engineering
National Academy of Engineering
Accessed: Sunday, March 09, 2014