Ethics Blog Post

Many graduate students and researchers feel pressure to show results and are in a race to publish as many high-impact journal papers as possible. It’s important to remember that even though we may feel pressured to constantly make visible progress we need to do that via truthful means. I would rather take an extra few months to publish a paper than to publish one with falsified information. Another thing worthy of noting is that while papers can be regarded as “visible progress”, we also make “invisible progress” by fixing our theory, doing a literature review, sorting references, setting up for experiments, etc. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into writing journal manuscripts and dissertations, and we should be proud of those accomplishments as well.

After looking at the ORI website, I decided to choose a research misconduct case to write about. It appears that this graduate student gave in to the pressure of showing results and fabricated data that was used in his own Ph.D. dissertation, as well as a poster presentation and grant applications. He knowingly presented falsified gene sequencing results. This person then entered into a voluntary exclusion agreement. They agreed that for three years they would exclude themself from contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the US Government and abstain from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS.

As I mentioned earlier, I think this person may have felt immense pressure to quickly publish a paper or perhaps they wanted to be the first in their field to publish on a specific topic. While it may have worked for them in the short term, their credibility as a researcher is now questionable and their prospects at future positions could be very low. Nothing is worth sacrificing your integrity and reputation for. It’s best to have honest results that take longer to obtain than to have falsified results for two minutes of fame.

Link to the case:

Mission Statements

A university’s mission statements communicate the core values and beliefs of a university and how they would like to see those values and beliefs embodied in their students. I decided to take a look at mission statements from top universities in different countries: 1.) USA and 2.) Switzerland to see how similar or different they are to each other. The two universities are Stanford University and ETH Zurich.

Stanford University’s Vision: 

Fueled by optimism, ingenuity and a sense of responsibility, we seek to accelerate our purposeful impact in the world.

The scale and urgency of challenges facing us today require that Stanford reach farther and move faster to accelerate our purposeful impact in the world. We need a new way of working that enables us to tackle long-standing issues facing our society and our planet and allows us to be nimble when faced with unexpected threats.

Our Vision amplifies Stanford’s contributions through a new model for research universities: not only accelerating the creation of knowledge, but also eliminating the lag time in translating knowledge into solutions and speeding the transfer of those solutions beyond our walls.

The strategic imperative of embedding ethics in everything we do is integrated across Our Vision, which is focused on:

  • accelerating solutions to the world’s most pressing problems
  • enhancing our knowledge of the world and ourselves
  • advancing education for our students, who are determined to make a difference
  • supporting our diverse community of faculty, students and staff, who underlie the university’s beneficial impact in the world.

ETH Zurich’s Mission Statement: 

ETH Zurich imparts to its students the highest state of knowledge and practical skills. It seeks to enable young people to find their orientation in a complex and rapidly changing world, and to stimulate an understanding of ethical and cultural values so that, upon completing their studies, they will be not only highly qualified professional people but also responsible members of society.

ETH is not content with mere participation in solving already known problems. In the context of global civilisation, it must respond to changing conditions, it must identify new problems as a kind of early warning system, and assume a leading role in seeking solutions. In doing so, it depends on the spirit of discovery, innovative force, and flexibility in its members.

As a technical university in a small country, ETH Zurich can only compete with the world’s best by establishing international links, by recruiting its academic and research staff worldwide, and by remaining attractive to students from abroad. The multicultural tradition of Switzerland, its cultural heritage acquired over many generations, provide in our view a strong base for this purpose.

When compared to the typical brief mission statements of other institutions, the mission statements of these two universities are more comprehensive.  I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the mission statements as the explanation of their values and vision provides deeper insight into the environment the universities seek to create. From Stanford’s vision, I can see that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their statement as they seek to quickly translate knowledge into solutions. This may be a reference to the race to develop a viable vaccine for COVID-19 as well as to instill a sense of creativity and using knowledge to predict and prepare solutions for problems we may face in the future. Both universities stress the importance of being able to adapt to changing conditions and to think ahead. The emphasis on community and on students becoming responsible members of society is also welcomed. The universities want their students to use their knowledge to contribute to the global community. ETH Zurich specifically mentions international links and the multicultural tradition of Switzerland, which is something unique to them. I think one point that would have been nice to include in the mission statements is how the institutions seek to serve their students, particularly the underserved communities. They talk about how they want their students to make an impact in the world, but I would like to see how the university itself seeks to impact its community. Overall, it is interesting to see how similar these two mission statements from institutions in different countries are as they focus on teaching their students to be creative and quick on their feet.