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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI launches Research Ethics Fellow Program to institutionalize research ethics training

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 13, 2004 -- Suppose you fill out a research survey, which promises confidentiality, and within a week you see your name cited in a newspaper story. Or suppose you agree to be a subject for a trial of a new vaccine, but you arenít informed that there are possible life-threatening side effects.

A new, $15,000 grant awarded to the University of Rhode Island will help the University launch a more systemic approach to integrating research ethics training into the fabric of the Universityís culture and help ensure these kinds of ethical breeches never occur at URI.

URIís Graduate School was one of only 10 such schools in the country to be awarded the Council of Graduate Schools grant to implement research ethics training across the curriculum. The Universityís focus will be on its 24 graduate degree programs in the behavioral or biomedical sciences.

Although URIís Research Office, through the Office of Compliance, currently offers a broad range of traditional research ethics activities, including workshops, web tutorials and video resources, a survey conducted last year showed that ethical training varied from department to department.

The grant will help the University formalize training by establishing an innovative Research Ethics Program for Graduate Students, which brings together faculty members, graduate students, and research professionals from private industry.

ďOur goal is to create a research ethics program that can not only be sustained at the University, but replicated by other intuitions,Ē says Lynn Pasquerella, a philosophy professor and an associate dean of URIís Graduate School who wrote the grant proposal.
The program, similar in design to the one used for ethics training of public administrators through URIís John Hazen White Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service, began in September with 44 participants.

Throughout this semester, the group will attend a series of bi-weekly, ethics training workshops facilitated by the two deans of URIís Graduate School--Howard Bibb and Pasquerella--as well as the URIís director of compliance, Diana Brown. Using actual cases, the participants will engage in ethical decision-making conversations, identify ethical dilemmas, construct and evaluate arguments, expose hidden assumptions, and recognize various points of view, and draw informed conclusions.

Working professionals from agencies such as Pfizer, South County Hospital, Hybrigene Inc., and Pro-Change Behavior Systems bring real life experiences from the workplace into the discussion, which provides reality testing for the faculty and student mentors. In turn, the professionals benefit from interaction with faculty members skilled in exploring the insights of such experiences.

After the workshops are completed, each faculty member who has been paired with a graduate student mentor will conduct ethics training workshops for their home departments. Participants will be given pre- and post-tests to assess their knowledge of research ethics. Graduate student mentors will be evaluated before they leave the program and departments will be surveyed after training has been conducted.

Pasquerella will highlight URIís leadership role in research ethics training in a book that will be published by the Council of Graduate Schools that will contain the innovative work of the 10 schools that were awarded the grant.