Category Archives: Ethics

Participating in a joint venture to better understand the topic of academic integrity in a graduate school setting.

Week 13 Final Project Update

I’ve pretty much solidified my final project for the course and as such, I am providing the description of it in this blog entry. I hope to speak to my peers and the instructors tomorrow to get any feedback.

My project is designed to prepare graduate students in the Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise department for ethical career decisions. Many graduate students in this department will be working with research participants or patients in health care settings. As such, it is important to prepare students for a variety of potential ethical decisions. Not only will this project provide a framework for graduate students entering their health-related career paths, but it will also be useful for future graduate students enrolled in the Nutrition Counseling course, which is the class that inspired this project. This project was developed using the ethical guidelines of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nutrition Counseling is a course that is designed to give graduate-level dietetics students relevant counseling experience. Nutrition counselors meet with clients on a weekly basis to discuss the client’s specific health goals, assessing where the client is currently at and using motivational interviewing to facilitate health behavior change to achieve their nutrition or health goal. During these sessions, personal information is collected pertaining to the client’s health status, family history, and dietary and exercise habits. It is important to keep these health documents confidential, as well as keep the identity of the client private when discussing their case in class. Furthermore, it is also important to act professionally in public places, if a counselor encounters a client. There may be social situations where a counselor is interacting with a client outside of the counseling session and it is important to act ethically and appropriately. This project will discuss how to handle these situations using a lesson plan for students in the course, other related-courses, or for students preparing to enter their health-related career. The lesson plan will include questions for readers, dispersed throughout a handful of short and realistic case studies that will highlight important ethical standards. Current (May 2016) graduate students enrolled in Nutrition Counseling provided real-life scenarios.

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Week 12 Personal Ethics

I really like the focus of this week’s blog. I think feeling out my personal ethics is a really important part of being in graduate school, but especially preparing for and entering the working force. As young professionals, we are not as familiar with the workings of the working world or the expectations of a company we might be with, so it’s important to use personal ethics to guide us through these somewhat ambiguous moments. It’s interesting to consider normative ethics. I guess I can’t really say I have a single principle that guides my decisions and actions, although now my mind is kind of churning to come up with one. Usually in most situations, if I’m not sure what to do, I tell myself to be honest. This guiding ethic applies to most situations but there are some situations that it might not…so I’ll definitely be thinking about this over the next few weeks. It seems like conflicting normative ethics contribute to the controversy inherent in applied ethics. As a future health care professional, I am sure I will run up against many issues pertaining to medical ethics, especially since we have discussed these frequently in my undergraduate and graduate coursework.

I get really frustrated by the idea of people using Koofers. Someone mentioned in last week’s blog that exceptional students can no longer stand out in the college classroom and it’s because of technology like Koofers. The CEO even said in the article that it evens the playing field. I don’t think that’s a good thing in academia because memorizing the answers to a previous test does NOT help you in the long run. This environment is meant to foster growth and learning and challenge students to be more qualified for their careers. On the flip side, I do believe professors have an obligation to be familiar with the content on sites like Koofers and change their exams when needed, to avoid situations like the one in the Physics department. The professor handled it according to his own personal ethics and as he said, it is truly a learning moment.

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Week 11 The System

I could really relate to the video “A Vision of Students Today.” During undergrad, I would sit in classes that did not interest me and multitask the entire period. It always left me with a sense of guilt but also with a sense of anger that I felt like I had no other options because I was not learning anything from the instructor’s lecture. Luckily, I had the chance to transfer into a major that truly resonated with me on a personal level, HNFE – dietetics. Yet, I still had to sit through classes which were supposed to provide me with a well-rounded background in addition to my science courses, but ended up being just another check in the box. I have only had one class like this in graduate school…it reminded me how frustrating the system can be. I had to be there for 3 hours…for attendance purposes…but I gleaned nothing from the lecture and spent a few hours outside of class each week TEACHING MYSELF.

While it seems easy to focus on the bleak perspective of the system, there is also a lot of change occurring that provides promise for the future. I have taken a handful of life-changing courses; these courses were designed to engage students…giving us the confidence to speak in front of others, the skills to summarize our thoughts succinctly, and the information to be successful both in the course and BEYOND the classroom. You know what these courses had in common? Innovative and creative minded instructors, who were approachable and encouraged us to think outside the box. They weren’t afraid to do that hard thing and go against the norm. They didn’t hide behind PowerPoints and they didn’t ask a question and answer it right away…they used real-life activities in class and waited and prodded us to truly think and talk amongst ourselves. The projects we did allowed us to be creative and didn’t provide an endless list of guidelines. One of my first classes that challenged me in more ways than tests and mindless assignments was an Honors Course called “From Memex to Youtube.” The class was taught by Gardner Campbell and is one of my only early undergraduate classes I actually REMEMBER. We talked about technology and how it can change the face of education if used interactively. The class was engaging, involving very complex discussions and projects. It put me outside of my comfort zone and demanded me to think independently

These are the instructors that will change the system. However, there’s not enough of these instructors to teach to the masses…because another commonality among my most rewarding classes was the small class size. This is the biggest issue with our classrooms today…and it desperately needs to be addressed…but how? It will take years for these innovative-minded instructors to make a large enough change to impact the way universities do things, but the optimist in me believes this wheel is starting to turn.



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Week 10 The Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics

I am very familiar with my discipline’s code of ethics, as our instructors have exposed us to the document numerous times, as well as enforced the expectations throughout undergraduate coursework. As a graduate student, I have also had the privilege to work under a dietitian and take classes taught by dietitians as well. The Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics values honesty, integrity, and fairness. As dietetics practitioners, we are to conduct ourselves professionally and help the field move in a direction that benefits clients, the public, and the profession. We are expected to report violations to our Code of Ethics.

As an undergraduate student, I remember reading this document for the first time and being very surprised that it actually APPLIED to me. This code applies to practicing dietitians and dietetic technicians as well as all members of the American Dietetic Association (that’s me). I don’t think students realize that they are expected to adhere to these codes, despite student status. This is especially pertinent to those of us who are serving as student nutrition counselors as well.

Another part of this document that caught by eye was a statement about how dietetics practitioners should not endorse products in a misleading way. This is becoming increasingly important for dietitians to keep in mind with the nutrition information overload online. A lot of times, “foodie” instagrams or blogs will get sponsored by a company and if the dietitian practitioner promotes a product in a false way…there can be repercussions.

Another really important ethics guideline for my field is interpreting controversial information without personal bias. This is important when clients reveal information about themselves that the dietitian might not support or understand. However, we are still expected to maintain objectivity throughout the nutrition care process.

I think my discipline is doing a great job at upholding professional standards in the field of nutrition. There is a lot of nutrition information to sift through these days, as a lot of individuals claim to be knowledgeable on the internet. I would say, if anyone ever has serious questions about nutrition to seek the guidance of a dietitian because with our training and ethical foundation, we will not mislead you!

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Week 9 Copyright Issues

There’s nothing like finding the perfect research article that contains the most important (at the time) information in it…only to find VT “does not subscribe!” This is the issue that comes to mind when thinking about copyright and availability of different works. I also think of the many times I have done a PowerPoint presentation with images and wondered if I was citing them correctly…similar to other topics we go over in this class, the issue of copyright is very vague. With that being said, it was really cool to explore the Creative Commons website. I really like the idea of building a richer, more easily-accessed public domain on the internet but this is a very complex issue.

One somewhat recent copyright issue deals with Facebook videos, stolen from YouTube. Apparently, content creators earn revenue for views on YouTube but “freebooters” (people who copy the content and upload it to Facebook) have been making some waves. Not only are they taking business away from YouTube, but by uploading the content to Facebook, freebooters take views away from the original content creator, which translates to a loss of revenue. It’s very hard to hold others accountable for these acts and lawsuits around this issue can be very complicated. What do you think is fair?

Another copyright issue that came to mind was when Taylor Swift removed her music from Spotify. It’s not textbook copyright infringement but this is what she said about allowing her music to be streamed with Spotify:

“In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.”

I think these two issues highlight the complexity of copyright issues on the internet and force us to think about this issue from the creator’s side, which I personally am not as familiar with.

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Week 8 Project Brainstorming

For my final project, I have been brainstorming about various ways to prepare graduate students for ethical career decisions, particularly graduate students within the Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise department. A lot of us will be working with research participants or patients in our future career settings and so I think it is important to prepare ourselves for the ethical issues we may face. I am currently taking a Nutrition Counseling class that is designed to give graduate-level dietetics students relevant counseling experience. Nutrition counselors meet with clients on a weekly basis to discuss the client’s specific health goals, assessing where the client is currently at and using motivational interviewing to help facilitate health behavior change to achieve their nutrition or health goal. During these sessions, we collect personal information about the client’s health status, family history, and dietary and exercise habits. It is important to keep these health documents confidential, as well as keep the identity of the client private when discussing their case in class. Furthermore, it is also important to act professionally in public places, especially if you run into a client. There may be social situations where a counselor is interacting with a client outside of the counseling session and it is important to act ethically and professionally. I will talk about how to handle these situations using a lesson plan for students in the course or other related-courses. The lesson plan will include a goals and questions for participants of the program, dispersed throughout a handful of case studies that will highlight important ethical standards. This program will facilitate academic integrity in the student counseling setting as well as prepare graduate students to be ethical professionals in their health-related careers.

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Week 7: Evolution of Ideas

Dan Blank got me thinking about collaboration and how far is too far. I think that pretty much defines the issue of authorship and plagiarism in a simplistic way. We touched on the issue of how works by other scientists and authors often catapult our own work, helping and inspiring us to develop our own ideas about a topic of interest. I was actually astounded listening to the Ted Talk by Austin Kleon. I could not believe that he was able to trace the cutting up of previous works (newspaper, books, etc.) to create a new work (poem, story, etc.) back to the 1760’s. And this was all before the internet! It’s funny because the internet makes collaboration so easy but also really complicates the issue of authorship and plagiarism. At the end of the day, I think collaboration is so crucial for the advancement and betterment of science, art, and humanity as a whole, because when we work together, the extra brain power can really create a concept or experimental design that no one person could think of on their own. When we build on other’s works…is it plagiarism or stolen authorship…or is it evolution? After all, we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t continue the work of others. I think that is a different way of posing the question: how far is too far? In art I think it’s easier to acknowledge another artist who has inspired you and Kleon even mentions how good poets transform their imitation and admiration of previous work to make something better. In the sciences, things are a little different and more technical ways exist to give others credit where it is due however collaboration is just as important. I think without really realizing it, we are always building on the work of those who came before us. That’s how science, health, medicine, etc. continue to advance and we as a species continue to thrive.

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Week 6 Citations

I have to start this blog with a quick comment on the photo of the monkey. Now I am all about animal rights and conservation of endangered species but I think this is a slippery slope…to give animals authorship. Should we start asking animals for consent when taking pictures of them in the wild? I know that’s far-fetched but I think this conflict is far-fetched as well. I am sure there is some kind of compromise that these two parties could reach instead of spending the money to pursue a lawsuit (money that could be spent helping to save this species of monkey)!

On the topic of citation, I found the material especially useful this week as I am working on my defense paper and have noticed a bunch of mistakes in the EndNote citation outputs on my reference list. The VT Library Citation Style List led me to VT’s American Medical Association web page which provided a really great PDF that has a bunch of solid examples and basic info:

I remember when I was an undergrad, I had such a hard time with citations. It was like the huge gray area in all group projects. No one was really sure if online citation generators were right…but it seemed like so much additional effort to actually generate your own citation (it’s not). EndNote makes life a lot easier, I only wish I was more open-minded to using it in my early undergraduate years. Although I do find EndNote to be a bit slow and I have heard great things about Mendeley, at this point it’s not worth switching two and a half months before my defense. I was surprised and disappointed to learn that I won’t have access to my EndNote library after I graduate unless I pay for it but I’m hoping that the company or hospital I work for will provide access to some kind of citation manager or perhaps I will make the switch to a free option.

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Week 5 Getting the RIO’s Perspective

I really liked this activity. It was very realistic and interactive which is the best way to learn. It was interesting to experience the perspective of the Research Integrity Officer although it may have been more beneficial for me to see through the eyes of a grad student. However, following the RIO through the process of taking the job and learning her responsibilities taught me a lot about the system of research integrity.

It seemed to me that the lady who was asked to be the RIO was really hesitant of taking the position, and she essentially ended up getting pushed into it. I empathized with her at her fear of basically being a “debbie-downer” in the research community at her institution. She feared that people were going to view her as someone to be feared and avoided which she didn’t like. Getting into the research community and talking about her job and being open and transparent about it was a great way to break the barrier and I think our own institution could benefit from someone doing this because students are probably less intimidated to come forward if they feel like they know the RIO.

Another situation that stuck out to me was that the exiting RIO didn’t even have any imparting information, knowledge, or advice to offer her. He didn’t even really know what he was doing. It seemed like the job description was very vague and involved a lot of gray area. This showed what a systemic issue research and academic integrity truly is because the overseer’s job had so many inherent issues. It also showed how a motivated, organized, and ethical individual can truly make a difference in this position and how others (graduate students, post-doc students, PIs) can benefit and be SAFER in their academic endeavors with a responsible person guiding them. However, it’s scary to think about the vulnerability of the research community as a whole if someone else got the job of RIO. Someone who felt pressured to just go with the flow and avoided upsetting anyone.

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Week 4 Communicating Honor Codes

his week’s reading kind of emphasized part of the problem I see with honor/ethics guidelines. There is no denying that the Graduate Honor Code is absolutely necessary to uphold academic integrity however I think this topic is such a gray area partly because the content and length of these documents is so daunting and intimidating. Let’s face it…this stuff isn’t fun to think about. It’s scary! While I do agree it’s important to understand the definitions and consequences of plagiarism, cheating, falsification, and academic sabotage, I wish there was a more concise and efficient way to communicate this important matter to students, especially undergraduate students. In general, I think students are just ignorant to these issues. If they could be informed in a quicker way, I think everyone would benefit. Professors always skim over the Honor Code section of their syllabus during the first class. With such severe consequences, I think the Honor Code deserves a little more time…especially how it might be pertinent to that specific class. It’s kind of just assumed that everyone knows what it entails. Perhaps if there was more interactive and engaging method to educate students about their school’s honor code. Maybe a hands on ethics class required at orientation for undergraduate students where students got to interact with each other in different scenarios of academic integrity. Or weekly emails could contain short and realistic case studies  or infographics to educate students on these issues, then they would be in a position to be more academically responsible!

I found a few infographics on pinterest that were fun and show how teaching this stuff can be done in ways other than just a wordy document. I feel like these could be modified to communicate pretty much anything about honor codes.

plagiarism compass

research paper


I really liked the infographic in this article:

This article also led me to another article that discussed how plagiarism among college students is the highest its ever been. I think its going to be very important moving forward to find effective ways to disseminate information regarding academic integrity.

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