Notre Dame studying the hurdles that may prevent researchers from speaking up

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Whistleblowing, or the voluntary reporting of potential misconduct, is critical for the detection and discouragement of misconduct. Yet certain factors, like the potential negative impact on a career or awareness of institutional policies and resources, can prevent individuals from speaking up. To improve whistleblower protections and policies, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have received an award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify such hurdles and brainstorm ways around them, within the arena of research misconduct.

Led by Allan Loup, assistant program director for ethics for the Graduate School at Notre Dame, the research program will enlist graduate student and postdoctoral scholars as participants. In discussing their role in the study, he said, “We know that graduate students and postdocs are among the best positioned to witness research misconduct. But they’re also among the most vulnerable to retaliation for speaking up. Since whistleblower protections can be key for ensuring integrity and public trust in research, we’re inviting our students to think hard about research ethics and to come up with ideas for how the system could be improved.” Participants will examine the topic in groups and produce recommendations, and their feedback will also be used to assess levels of self-confidence in reporting research misconduct, willingness to support other whistleblowers, and the factors that make reporting difficult.

Additionally, the study will ascertain how aware graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are of the whistleblowing process and protections against retaliation. Laura Carlson, dean of the Graduate School, vice president and associate provost, and professor of psychology notes, “We are constructing a climate at Notre Dame that encourages students to speak up. This particular project relates to research misconduct, but our overall goal is more extensive – to set up an environment in which students feel safe to speak up about any issues that cause them concern.” Through existing mechanisms including the “Shared Expectations” conversation guide, faculty advisors and graduate students are encouraged to hold conversations, one-on-one, as labs/research groups, and as a department, to establish shared expectations for the students, the mentors, and the departments.

The data produced from this research will also help influence programs for integrity training on what it means to have ethical and responsible conduct in research. In addition to Loup and Carlson, other collaborators are Cindy Bergeman, associate vice president for research and professor of psychology, and John Lubker, associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate School.

Originally published by Demetra Schoenig and Brandi Wampler at graduateschool.nd.edu on December 12, 2019.