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Updated: August 29, 2023

USM researchers awarded grant to create ethics training for future scientists

aerial of college campus File photo The University of Southern Maine, whose Portland campus is shown here, is part of the University of Maine System.

Researchers at the University of Southern Maine will use a $400,000 federal grant to create and test an ethics training program for future scientists.

The grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation and is one of the foundation's largest ever to the school.

“It puts USM at the cutting edge of student research readiness,” said Bruce Thompson, a psychology professor and one of the researchers on the project. 

The effort 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, the project aims to focus on psychological and social factors that affect human behavior in order to 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,” Thompson said, “Oftentimes, that’s when research misconduct occurs, when people fudge their results or they plagiarize, especially in this day and age with ChatGPT," a chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched last November.

"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," he added. "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.”

Further details

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 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, nonprofit and businesses. 

USM, which is part of the University of Maine System, has 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students taking courses online and at campuses in Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn.

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