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Ethical Concerns of Doctoral Students

by Trudie Longren, studioD

Doctoral programs produce the highest level of scientific research in academic and university settings. The researcher's integrity and the quality of the research conducted must also meet the highest ethical standards. When conducting doctoral research, students must be mindful of ethical standards regarding the integrity of the data and reporting, protection of human dignity when gathering evidence, humane care for and treatment of animals, acknowledgement of conflict of interests and proper attribution of authorship.

Accurate Reporting

Doctoral research is often conducted independently, particularly work done in the field to interview subjects or experiments carried out in the laboratory to confirm or disprove hypotheses. The temptation to falsify data or to exaggerate findings can be high, but ethical standards demand intellectual honesty when proposing, performing and reporting research findings. Accuracy not only entails correctly portraying research results but also includes using the correct methodology when conducting research, acknowledging factors that could have influenced the outcome of the data and disclosing statistics that contradict your own previous research.

Protecting Human Dignity

Research conducted by interviewing individuals or performing clinical trials on humans should be carried out with the utmost respect for human dignity. The principle of informed consent mandates the researcher to properly disclose to the subjects all known risks and hazards associated with the research and to obtain the written authorization of each subject to carry out the clinical trial. Where the anonymity of the subject is paramount, the researcher must also properly code results to protect the identity of the participants.

Humane Treatment of Animals

Certain medical and scientific laboratory experiments are conducted on live animals such as mice or rats. Animal testing necessarily involves following the policies of other agencies outside of the university, including government regulatory agencies. These experiments must also be carried out in accordance with university standards, which often require prior authorization by an animal ethics committee.

Managing Conflicts of Interest

Doctoral research is sometimes sponsored and funded by third parties such as pharmaceutical companies or private manufacturers; transparency is required by stating the relationship in reports and publicly acknowledging the funding when giving conference lectures about the research results. If the funding source is also the subject of the research, a conflict of interest arises that must be fully disclosed in the findings of the research. Moreover, if the researcher cannot maintain his independence as a result of the relationship, the integrity of the findings are also compromised.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Researchers have an ethical obligation to correctly attribute the authorship of research design, methods and findings from the works and studies of others through proper scholarly citations and other acknowledgement. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense that can lead to dismissal from a doctoral program; therefore, all collaborative work should acknowledge the contributors, and you should not take credit for work that was conducted by others, including ideas gleaned from conference presentations or reviews of journal manuscripts.

About the Author

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.

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