Ethics in Practice

Today many forms of scientific evidence are met with skepticism and mistrust, and our healthcare systems are challenged by entrenched inequalities and profit motives. The next generation of leaders in biomedical and life sciences, environmental science, and engineering will need to be adept at addressing these challenges. At SJRC, we believe this requires bold new approaches to teaching ethics and practice in STEM fields. Institutionally required online compliance trainings or lectures on the last day of a course can give students the impression that ‘ethics’ questions are not important or interesting or relevant to their everyday work. At UCSC, we strive to exceed these narrow standards for the ethical approval of science, and prepare our students to be powerful stewards of socially robust science.

Our vision of ‘good’ science exceeds simple compliance with institutional mandates. Good science (Thompson 2013), starts from the assumption that research practices always have ethics and politics, and what we require is a more robust institutional integration of ethics, politics and science. To work toward good science, students and research practitioners must not only anticipate the possible social implications of their science, but also learn to grapple with implicated values (Darling et al. 2015). Starting from how problems and questions are defined, values, politics and matters of justice are implicated in every stage of the research process. Federal funding agencies such as NSF and NIH increasingly require universities to provide ethics training for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the sciences and engineering, however these agencies often do not specify the content of this training, providing little guidance to Principal Investigators.

At UCSC, SJRC is filling this gap through innovative and practice-based ethics pedagogy. The SJRC works with faculty PIs to address ways in which they can fulfill mandatory responsible conduct of research (RCR) requirements of NIH-funded graduate and postdoctoral training programs. In collaboration with SJRC faculty affiliates across campus, we help science and engineering students and faculty develop robust ethics and practice curricula tailored for science and engineering departments, labs and training programs. SJRC ethics in practice seminars emphasize discussion and co-learning, and open-ended responsiveness to the broader conditions and consequences of scientific knowledge production. These seminars support the development of research practices and training environments that are both intellectually sophisticated and responsive to questions of values, justice and ethics that arise in the conduct of research.

For more information, refer to the NIH Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Requirements.