A Conflict of Commitment

Sandra was excited about being accepted as a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Frederick, a leading scholar in her field, and she embarked on her assigned research project eagerly. But after a few months she began to have misgivings. Though part of Dr. Frederick’s work was supported by federal grants, the project on which she was working was totally supported by a grant from a single company. She had asked Dr. Frederick about this before coming to his lab, and he had assured her that he did not think that the company’s support would conflict with her education. But the more Sandra worked on the project, the more it seemed skewed toward questions important to the company. For instance, there were so many experiments she needed to carry out for the company’s research that she was unable to explore some of the interesting basic questions raised by her work or to develop her own ideas in other areas. Although she was learning a lot, she worried that her ability to publish her work would be limited and that she would not have a coherent dissertation. Also, she had heard from some of the other graduate students doing company-sponsored work that they had signed confidentiality statements agreeing not to discuss their work with others, which made it difficult to get advice. Dr. Frederick and the company’s researchers were very excited about her results, but she wondered whether the situation was the best for her.

  1. Has Dr. Frederick done anything wrong in giving Sandra this assignment?

  2. What potential conflicts in terms of data collection, data interpretation, and publishing might Sandra encounter as she continues with her research?

outside activities by faculty members. Training in laboratory management may offer valuable information on how to manage conflicts of commitment. As with conflicts of interest, identifying the conflict is an important first step in arriving at an acceptable solution.

Beyond conflicts of interest and commitment are issues related to the values and beliefs that researchers hold. Researchers can have strongly held convictions—for example, a desire to eliminate a particular disease, reduce environmental pollution, or demonstrate the biological underpinnings of human behavior. Or someone might have

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