Ethics in Graduate Education
Date: 7/28/2009 10:13 am
Graduate students, just as any other member of society, will find themselves facing ethical decisions whose outcome could significantly affect their careers. It is obvious that theft of laboratory equipment, falsifications of data, and plagiarism are unacceptable behaviors. However, other choices might not be so straightforward. Graduate students are expected to conform not only to the Auburn University Code of Student Conduct (see Tiger Cub) but also to the unwritten code of proper scientific conduct. Ethical considerations should always supersede expediency-based decisions. Students should expect the same degree of ethical conduct from faculty members.
The usual type of problem a graduate student may confront as an ethical decision is in the presentation of data and interpretation of results. In fact, in some instances the student may not recognize that there is an ethical component to the decision. There are many ways in which data can be made to look better than the totality of the experimental results would suggest. Thus, how to present data often involves ethical decisions. When such a question arises, the obvious source of guidance is the major professor. Faculty members are expected to utilize and teach sound ethical practices to their graduate students, in part, through regular discussions and intellectual challenges. If a major professor does not illustrate, through his or her actions and behavior, what is expected of a student, but instead is the source of ethical conflict, the student should contact other members of his/her advisory committee and the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies. Alternatively, personnel in the Graduate School are usually able to give appropriate and confidential guidance to students.
Faculty members sometimes neglect discussion of ethical questions with their graduate students, assuming that good ethical judgment has already been acquired. In some instances, it might seem that an entire career rests with the success or failure of an experiment, or with the students's ability to satisfy a demanding major professor. Under pressures of graduate training and competitive scientific research, the student may be confronted with conflicting values and the most ethical choice may not always be clear. Although society has high expectations regarding the ethical behavior of scientists, most scientists set even higher standards for themselves and their colleagues. Determining truth in science is difficult enough without having to contend with international misrepresentations of fact.