Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ethics Overload (again)

Today I underwent more ethics training, and I fear that it was as irrelevant as all the other ethics workshops I have attended. At some point, one of the other trainees asked "Is there a point to this workshop?" and the person leading the workshop replied "Not really. We just have to do this. Be sure to sign the list so you get credit." Is that ethical?

Some of the workshop participants seemed to confuse ethical issues with issues of good vs. bad practices in science. Some people like to tell their own strange anecdotes that illuminate nothing (perhaps they should start blogs). Some people just like to disagree with whatever else is being said. It was a long afternoon.

The only time the workshop participants (including me) showed any signs of life was during a discussion of advisor-student issues re. publications. Someone told a supposedly shocking anecdote about an advisor who thought his students should be motivated to publish by the advisor's imminent tenure review. The workshop divided up into camps over that.

One faction's philosophy was: when you're in a research group, everything is interconnected. If someone isn't being productive, it affects everyone. If you're supported on a grant, you have to produce something or it affects the group's ability to get more grants.

Another faction thought that the advisor was selfish to focus on his tenure situation and maybe the students weren't ready to publish their results yet. It's hard to say without more information about that specific situation, but in general I relate more to research-group-as-interconnected-community point of view.


Anonymous said...

This is marginally related... I'm a PhD student with about 1.5 years to go. I've been concerned about some questionable ethics concerning authorship and who gets put on observing proposals (I'm an astronomer). I was having a discussion with one of our postdocs last week and he flat out denied that ethics even exist in physics! We get zero ethics training and I think it would be great to have some, for grad students at least, specifically geared to our field. I've never heard my advisor, who is generally excelent, discuss such ethical questions. I'd like to bring this up but I don't know of any resources. What do you all think?

Doug Natelson said...

Interesting - clearly at least some discussion of ethics is worthwhile, though I agree with FSP that it's very easy for such things to become vapid without actually influencing behavior.

On the matter in the original post, I also lean toward the research-group-as-a-team direction. Presumably it's not in the best interests of any of the participants if the advisor doesn't get tenure. On the other hand, if the advisor is counting on some last-minute burst of papers to make the tenure case, that's already not a great sign.

Female Science Professor said...

There are lots of online resources, at least as a place to start. I bet your university has some on-campus resources as well. It's too bad that some discussion of ethics isn't part of the new grad orientation. Is there a faculty member in charge of the grad program? If there is and if that person seems at all sympathetic, it might be worth suggesting.