University of Southern Maine awarded federal grant to create ethics training

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded University of Southern Maine researchers approximately $400,000 to create and test a training program that prepares future scientists to make ethical decisions. 

The project will be geared toward emerging science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals and will focus on the pressures they may encounter in the workplace. While ethics training exists for college students, this project expands on traditional approaches by focusing on psychological and social factors that impact human behavior. The goal: prevent threats to research integrity and encourage future researchers to behave ethically.

“We live in a culture where there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of competition,”  Bruce Thompson, USM Psychology Professor and one of the researchers on the project. “Oftentimes, that’s when research misconduct occurs, when people fudge their results or they plagiarize, especially in this day and age with ChatGPT. There’s just a lot of temptation and pitfalls that take completely normal, ethical, thoughtful people and put them in situations where misconduct can occur. So we’re trying to essentially pilot an ethics training program that will do a better job of making people aware of how vulnerable they can be when they’re under pressure or time constraints.”

This is one of the largest NSF grants the University has ever received. 

“It puts USM at the cutting edge of student research readiness,” Thompson said. 

The training will focus on mindful reflection, self monitoring, and reasoning to help students recognize when they are in situations that could challenge their ethics. It will also prompt them to look at the conditions of the situation, including the emotions involved, stress, and institutional or cultural norms. The training will include simulations to mimic typical educational and research pressures.

Under the three-year NSF grant, the training will be developed and piloted at USM with the hope that it can be made available to other colleges, nonprofits, and businesses.