RESEARCH ETHICS EDUCATION IN ENGINEERING: THE VIEW FROM EARLY CAREER FACULTY

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1 RESEARCH ETHICS EDUCATION IN ENGINEERING: THE VIEW FROM EARLY CAREER FACULTY Sara E. Wilson University of Kansas Recent passage of the America COMPETES act and its associated mandate of responsible conduct of research (RCR) education for all trainees has encouraged most universities to begin training programs in many disciplines for which RCR training is less common. In many biological and clinical sciences such training has been commonplace due to a history of NIH mandates and a general community acceptance of such training. In engineering, while engineering ethics is common at the undergraduate level, RCR training of graduate students is still quite new outside of the engineering fields such as bioengineering that overlap with the biomedical sciences. Engineering is also quite different from the sciences in terms of the research performed at the graduate level and the career expectations of the graduate students. Graduate students in engineering can be different from the other sciences in their undergraduate preparation both in ethics related materials and in scientific research practices. All of these factors make engineering a unique environment for the development of RCR education of trainees at the graduate and post-doctoral levels. ENGINEERING ETHICS The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Engineering Technology (ABET) is a dominant force in the curriculum of undergraduate engineering education. It has long been the position of this board that undergraduate students in engineering should be educated in the ethical practice of engineering. Through the regular (every 6 years or less) accreditation process, all engineering programs are expected to demonstrate their coverage of this educational objective. The National Society of Professional Engineers has reinforced this view through the engineering licensure process. The engineering ethics encouraged by 119

2 120 Teaching Ethics, Spring 2012 these institutions focuses on engineers as practicing professionals working primarily in design and development rather than research. Undergraduate engineering ethics curricula rarely cover topics typical of responsible conduct of research (RCR) such as paper authorship, peer review, and research funding management and rather focus on issues such as employer-client-employee relations, human health, safety and welfare in design, and intellectual property. In general, undergraduate engineering education is much less focused on the process of doing research and scientific inquiry and more focused on the use of scientific principles in the design and creation of new products. As such these students are generally less familiar with scientific literature and the scientific process than their science colleagues. These differences in undergraduate education between engineering and the sciences have two important implications: 1.) While these students have been exposed to ethics issues in their profession, they have generally not been exposed to RCR issues they might encounter as graduate students or as academic researchers, and 2.) These students have had less exposure to research practices than their science colleagues and as such often need to have education on these practices in concert with learning about responsible conduct of such research. For example, many undergraduate engineering students are not exposed significantly to the peer reviewed journal article that is commonplace in academic research. As such, they are also generally not familiar with authorship practices in these journal articles and the ethical issues that arise from authorship. ENGINEERING RESEARCH Hypothesis-driven, laboratory or clinical research is a standard for much of the biological and clinical sciences and is the most common focus for RCR educational materials and courses. However, engineering graduate students perform a wide variety of other research activities at the graduate and post-doctoral research including computational modeling, field testing, and design. In a current survey of University of Kansas (KU) engineering faculty (for which approval was obtained from the KU-L human subjects committee and consent obtained from all subjects), the faculty members were surveyed about what research activities were performed in their laboratories by their graduate students. Of the 18 respondents, across 7 engineering disciplines, only 61% said their laboratories were engaged in hypothesis-driven experimental

3 S. E. Wilson: Research Ethics Education in Engineering: The View from Early Career research. Conversely, 44% of these faculty members were engaged in observational experimental research, 39% were engaged in field testing, 44% were engaged in computational modeling, and 67% were engaged in design work. From this data, it is evident that RCR training focused solely on hypothesis-driven experimental research will have less applicability to the students of a majority of engineering faculty. One area of research in engineering graduate schools is computational modeling. Computational models are used across a number of engineering disciplines to represent, better understand, and better predict the behavior of physical systems. Finite element models and computational fluid dynamics models are examples of these computational models. To create a computational model one needs to make a number of simplifying assumptions such as Newtonian Fluid or Rigid Body to reduce a complex physical system into a solvable problem. The appropriateness of these assumptions can impact the validity of the model. The input data used to create a model can also have error to which the model may or may not be sensitive. Such models are often solved using computational numerical methods that can have limitations that are important to the validity of the model. Models often need to be validated against experimental data to demonstrate their accuracy in prediction of physical results. These elements can all factor into the quality of the modeling work, much in the same way that good data handling factors into the quality of experimental work. In computational modeling, the work can sometimes seem far removed from a result that might impact human health and safety. However, there are a number of reasons one should still be concerned for the responsible conduct of research in computational modeling. First, computational modeling is sometimes used for purposes that can impact human health and safety. For example, computational modeling of weather and climate impacts the prediction of weather conditions such as hurricanes and public policies on greenhouse gases. Computational modeling of a car structure may be used in the design of safety systems in the vehicle. Second, even when modeling does not directly impact human health and safety, models can impact scientific progress and irresponsible modeling efforts can lead to slowing of this progress to the detriment of the profession and our body of knowledge. It can be argued that, if the research is important enough to be funded as a grant, it is important enough to be performed ethically, even if the direct results of the work are not likely to harm humans.

4 122 Teaching Ethics, Spring 2012 Design research is another area that is important to include in RCR courses for engineers. Students engaged in this type of research need to consider the effect of their design on human health and welfare, the global and social impacts of the design, the sustainability of manufacture of their design, intellectual property issues and issues of confidential and classified research on their ability to publish. These issues can be present in undergraduate engineering ethics, but can take on new meaning when a student s own design research is being considered. Reinforcement of these ideas at the graduate level can be important in advancing responsible professional conduct. In addition, students coming from other disciplines, countries, cultures or institutions may have had varied exposure to engineering ethics as undergraduates and can benefit from a better understanding of the ethical and professional expectations of their host country. CAREERS In the survey of 18 engineering faculty members at the University of Kansas, the respondents were asked to describe where their MS and PhD students have chosen to work after graduation (Figure 1). Only 11% of these faculty reported having MS students working in academia and only 65% reported having PhD students working in academia. This compares to 100% who report having MS students working in large companies and 77% who report having PhD students working in large companies. These numbers demonstrate that many engineering graduate students end up working in industry, non-profits and government agencies. A responsible conduct of research course that is focused on preparing students for their future careers should include topics that apply to these careers including business ethics, professional responsibilities, employer-employee interactions, intellectual property, military ethics, and public policy. In the same survey of engineering faculty, the professors were asked to indicate the importance of a list of ethics topics to their graduate students thesis research and to their students future careers (Tables 1 and 2). These faculty members all felt that issues of plagiarism, academic conduct, and authorship were important to thesis research but gave much more varied answers on the importance of other topics such as human/animal subjects, human factors in design, issues in computational modeling, and societal impact issues (sustainability, etc). Interestingly, the same faculty indicated that some issues have greater importance when

5 S. E. Wilson: Research Ethics Education in Engineering: The View from Early Career considering students eventual careers including business ethics, intellectual property, and issues of confidential and restricted research. FACULTY The career goals, research types and undergraduate training of engineering students all create a unique environment for development of RCR courses and educational materials for engineering graduate schools. In addition to the unique material an RCR course in engineering should cover, the proposal of an RCR course can run into some interesting responses from engineering faculty. The first response is that the faculty does feel strongly that ethical behavior is important. In engineering schools, one will often here statements such as We don t want unethical engineers designing our bridges/ heart valves/ cars/ planes/ chemical manufacturing plants. Such thoughts have guided the incorporation of engineering ethics at the undergraduate level and also can result in strong policies regarding academic misconduct. However, while such faculty value engineering ethics, some view graduate students as already trained in ethics. Engineering graduate programs typically have high course load requirements and, as such, faculty members are sometimes loath to add an RCR course or to drop an engineering course to allow room for an RCR course. As many graduate students are supported by research assistantships, extra credit hours for an RCR course may even be seen as a drain on research dollars. Some faculty view the training their students receive in the laboratory setting through their example as sufficient for the students to understand responsible conduct in their discipline. Finally, when research does not have a direct impact on human health and welfare, the training of RCR can be viewed as less important. This is particularly true when the RCR training is not directed at the type of research of the students. In conclusion, the training of responsible conduct of research at the graduate level in engineering requires sensitivity to the needs of these students, their research work and their career goals. It also requires education of the faculty on the differences between RCR and engineering ethics and an awareness of the competing demands on the students. NSF mandates will provide a powerful incentive for engineering schools to take RCR training serious and as such open a powerful opportunity to discuss what RCR means for engineers and to develop new educational materials.

6 124 Teaching Ethics, Spring 2012 FIGURES Figure 1 A survey of engineering faculty at the University of Kansas indicated that 65% of the faculty had PhD students that went to academy in contrast to 76% of the faculty with PhD graduates in large companies. This table illustrates the response of faculty when asked where their MS students and PhD students have placed after graduation.

7 S. E. Wilson: Research Ethics Education in Engineering: The View from Early Career Table 1 The University of Kansas faculty surveyed were asked to indicate to what level each ethical issues was important for their students thesis research. Subjects that were thought to be most important included plagiarism, best laboratory practices, academic conduct, and paper authorship. Other topics, such as human subjects, human factors in design, computational modeling issues, and intellectual property were of varied importance depending on the area of the research. Not at All A Little Somewhat Often All the Time Avoiding Plagiarism 0.0% 0.0% 5.6% 44.4% 50.0% Academic Conduct 0.0% 5.6% 33.3% 22.2% 38.9% Authorship of Scientific Papers and Abstracts 0.0% 5.6% 16.7% 38.9% 38.9% Peer Review of Grant Proposals 16.7% 16.7% 44.4% 5.6% 16.7% Mentorship and Working Relationships 0.0% 5.9% 41.2% 23.5% 29.4% Best Practices in the Laboratory: Lab Notebooks, Data Integrity, Statistics 5.6% 11.1% 5.6% 33.3% 44.4% Human Subjects in Experiments 55.6% 11.1% 16.7% 11.1% 5.6% Animal Subjects in Experiments 66.7% 27.8% 0.0% 5.6% 0.0% Issues in the Appropriate Design and Use of Computational Models 16.7% 22.2% 22.2% 33.3% 5.6% Intellectual Property: Copyrights, Patents, Trade Secrets, Trademarks 0.0% 27.8% 27.8% 27.8% 16.7% Confidentiality and Restricted or Classified Research 5.6% 33.3% 38.9% 16.7% 5.6% Human Factors and Safety in Design of Products for Human Use 27.8% 38.9% 22.2% 11.1% 0.0% Business Ethics 11.1% 33.3% 11.1% 27.8% 16.7% Sustainability and the Environment 22.2% 33.3% 11.1% 16.7% 16.7% Social Justice Issues (ie. providing resources for the poor, third world countries, etc.) 55.6% 16.7% 16.7% 11.1% 0.0% Other Societal Impacts 29.4% 29.4% 35.3% 5.9% 0.0% Whistleblowing (Dealing with the Conduct Issues of Others) 5.6% 44.4% 33.3% 5.6% 11.1%

8 126 Teaching Ethics, Spring 2012 Table 2 The University of Kansas faculty surveyed were asked to indicate to what level each ethical issues was important for their students careers. The faculty rated issues such as business ethics, intellectual property and societal impact higher for a students career than for their graduate research. Not at All A Little Somewhat Often All the Time Avoiding Plagiarism 0.0% 0.0% 22.2% 44.4% 33.3% Academic Conduct 5.6% 33.3% 16.7% 27.8% 16.7% Authorship of Scientific Papers and Abstracts 0.0% 5.6% 33.3% 38.9% 22.2% Peer Review of Grant Proposals 5.6% 27.8% 50.0% 16.7% 0.0% Mentorship and Working Relationships 0.0% 11.1% 22.2% 33.3% 33.3% Best Practices in the Laboratory: Lab Notebooks, Data Integrity, Statistics 11.1% 16.7% 5.6% 38.9% 27.8% Human Subjects in Experiments 55.6% 27.8% 5.6% 11.1% 0.0% Animal Subjects in Experiments 55.6% 33.3% 5.6% 5.6% 0.0% Issues in the Appropriate Design and Use of Computational Models 5.6% 27.8% 22.2% 44.4% 0.0% Intellectual Property: Copyrights, Patents, Trade Secrets, Trademarks 0.0% 5.6% 33.3% 38.9% 22.2% Confidentiality and Restricted or Classified Research 0.0% 11.1% 27.8% 50.0% 11.1% Human Factors and Safety in Design of Products for Human Use 22.2% 22.2% 38.9% 16.7% 0.0% Business Ethics 0.0% 16.7% 5.6% 44.4% 33.3% Sustainability and the Environment 5.9% 47.1% 17.6% 23.5% 5.9% Social Justice Issues (ie. providing resources for the poor, third world countries, etc.) 22.2% 50.0% 16.7% 11.1% 0.0% Other Societal Impacts 22.2% 27.8% 33.3% 16.7% 0.0% Whistleblowing (Dealing with the Conduct Issues of Others) 5.6% 5.6% 72.2% 16.7% 0.0%

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