The case discusses proper supervision of students, proper review of data and conclusions, ownership of data, and honesty in reporting.
From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 4, 2000
edited by Brian Schrag
Roger, a well-respected graduate student, defended his dissertation early in the spring semester. His work was quite well received, and Roger was commended for his synthesis abilities, since his dissertation results and conclusions did not entirely agree with the established framework of the phenomenon he was studying. Roger was planning to stay on in the lab in order to apply for post-doctoral positions, complete some projects, finish writing the manuscripts from the dissertation to be submitted for publication, and to help train a junior graduate student and other students choosing to do a rotation through the lab.
Roger's guidance was essential for the continuation of research in the lab utilizing histochemistry, as he was the person who had originally learned the techniques and brought them into the lab. His adviser, Dr. Hare, was quite pleased with the initiative and determination that Roger had shown during the early period of his dissertation research when he was learning the histochemical techniques piecemeal from other labs. It was difficult for Roger, and his adviser and committee could offer little guidance as they were only minimally familiar with the techniques and knew nearly nothing of the technical details. Roger struggled for over two years with the techniques and their application to his model system before he started producing results. Once the results started coming, however, they came quickly. Roger and Hare were very pleased with the data, but neither Roger's adviser nor his committee examined many of the details.
A few weeks after Roger had defended, Jessica (a first-year graduate student) began an eight-week rotation through the lab. Hare had outlined for Jessica and Roger, who would be overseeing her work, a few possible projects that might give her a feel for the techniques and topics in the lab. Roger and Jessica agreed that she should start on a project that had branched out from Roger's dissertation. She would be using histochemical techniques that Roger had brought to the lab as well as some others that the lab been using quite expertly for some time, but that Roger was unable to use in his dissertation research for various reasons. Jessica was excited about the bigger picture of the research that Roger had explained to her.
After looking at the data from a set of preliminary experiments, Jessica brought her results to Roger. Roger questioned Jessica intently about the methods she used in the experiments and asked to see some of the materials involved. Roger told Jessica that it appeared that she had done the experiment well, but that he was pretty sure something had gone wrong. He said that he would look into it and that, in the meantime, she should begin to put her efforts into one of the other projects they had discussed. Jessica agreed and thanked Roger for his time, guidance and concern.
Jessica was unaware that her data directly conflicted with the data that Roger had produced during his dissertation research in the previous year. After questioning Jessica and looking at the materials, Roger recognized this discrepancy and was slightly concerned. If Jessica was correct, then he would have to suspect his own data. Roger tried to keep in mind that Jessica was a novice and may have made some simple mistakes. However, she was using some techniques that may have given Roger different results had he been able to use them during his dissertation work. Roger decided not to acknowledge the conflict between the data sets.
Roger set up the experiments that he had told Jessica he would do to try to clarify her results and performed them himself. Much to his surprise, the experiments confirmed exactly what Jessica had originally brought to him. The results were in serious conflict with Roger's conclusions in his dissertation. Over the next few weeks Roger helped Jessica with the other project she had begun. The original project was not discussed. Roger did not bring it up, and Jessica was busy with and excited about the new project, which was going quite well. She wanted to contribute something positive to the lab before she had to move to the next rotation.
Jessica's rotation concluded with a meeting with Hare and Roger. Hare told Jessica that both he and Roger felt that she had done an excellent job, had learned quite a bit and would therefore be receiving excellent marks for the rotation.
When Hare inquired about the reason for the mid-rotation change in projects, Roger interjected. He explained that Jessica had performed some experiments that indicated that those directions were likely to be fruitless and he had felt Jessica should use the techniques she had learned on a more promising venture. Hare thought that was a good idea and thanked Roger for his attention and guidance because this strategy probably saved the lab and Jessica a lot of time and energy tracking down an apparently When Hare inquired about the reason for the mid-rotation change in projects, Roger interjected. He explained that Jessica had performed some experiments that indicated that those directions were likely to be fruitless and he had felt Jessica should use the techniques she had learned on a more promising venture. Hare thought that was a good idea and thanked Roger for his attention and guidance because this strategy probably saved the lab and Jessica a lot of time and energy tracking down an apparently false lead.
Posted 12 years and 9 months ago
Karen Muskavitch Indiana University
This case focuses on the multiple relationships that are an essential part of the training of graduate students in the sciences, particularly in the laboratory sciences. The primary emphasis is on exploring the responsibilities of the faculty members who supervise and advise a student's dissertation research, as well as the responsibilities of the student himself. However, one can also use this case to initiate a discussion of the rights and responsibilities involved in the roles of rotating first-year graduate students, senior graduate students supervising less experienced students, and faculty members hoping to recruit new students to the laboratory.
Many universities are now beginning to articulate their expectations of faculty advisers,1 and discussion of this case represents an excellent opportunity to investigate the standards at your own institution. More generally, the National Academy Press has published two booklets that address the graduate student-faculty adviser relationship from both the student's and faculty member's points of view.2
Weil and Arzbaecher have stressed the need for regular communication in laboratories,3 and it has been my observation that candid, thoughtful communication is critical for successful relationships between students and advisers. All observations and concerns need to be shared, but at the same time there must be restraint to avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions. To practice such candor, both must feel that each is looking out for the other's best interests as well as his own. In this scenario, it does not seem that Roger trusts Dr. Hare to look out for Roger's best interests.
Key concepts: graduate student training and advising, student-faculty relationships, laboratory management.
From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 4, 2000 edited by Brian Schrag
This case touches on several points in research ethics. The points may be clear to a reader who can look at the entire picture over the course of a few minutes, but it is written to try to get the reader to look at the various steps as they may have happened - over the course of a few weeks. The characters in the story had to deal with the issues far more slowly than one sees them while reading the case. Further, the individual steps from decision to decision are relatively small, and they may have appeared even more innocuous when addressed over a long period of time. The "slippery slope" concept is very relevant when dealing with the training of graduate students in ethical conduct in research, since the graduate years are those where they make s their first choices on where to stand in their professions.
The case is meant to address proper supervision of students, proper review of data and conclusions, ownership of data, honesty in reporting, and honesty in reporting. Jessica was included in order to provide a revelation of conflicting data and is not intended to be a significant part of the case at all. However, the case could become more complex if Roger were to act vindictively and grade her poorly based on his own biases.
The first direct question in the case asks whether any mistakes had been made before Jessica's arrival at the lab. The point addressed by this question is actually directed more toward the behavior of Hare and the committee. From the background it is clear that Hare did not take an active role in guiding Roger's development of the histochemical techniques and was not able to provide expert advice or critique regarding the results. This fact has relevance to Roger's possible misinterpretation of data. It also has relevance to the rest of the case as it gives an indication of Hare's approach to the education of students.
Roger's first relevant decision occurred when he decided not to report the conflicting results to Hare or Jessica. It could be argued that this decision was perfectly reasonable since these were only the first results produced by a novice researcher. However, Roger made an executive decision regarding data that was not his sole property. Perhaps it would have been more proper for him to mention to Jessica and Hare, even in passing, the possible relevance of what Jessica had found.
Roger's next actions were a mixture. It was good, scientifically and ethically, for him to follow up on Jessica's results. His decision to put her on a different project could go either way - it really depends on his motivation, and the case is not clear on that point. Roger made another important decision when he completed the follow up experiments that confirmed Jessica's initial findings. The case made it clear that he did not relate his finding to anyone. In fact, he accepted thanks and praise for his monitoring of Jessica's progress and for keeping the lab "on track.î It is now clear that Roger, whether it was his intent from the outset or not, is manipulating data and hiding results from the lab director.
Certain aspects of this entire situation may have been averted had Hare and the committee taken a more active role in Roger's training and guidance. This case clearly addresses issues of honest handling of data and of disclosure, touching on the ownership of data and the responsible use of laboratory resources and showing that Roger has responsibilities that go beyond his own interests. The case also demonstrates how small decisions can eventually create a situation that one would clearly have avoided were that situation one of the initial choices.