Monthly Archives: October 2016

Shades of Grey

What would you do?

If you were feeling pressured to conduct research, publish your findings, obtain grants for funding, and all while juggling all your other responsibilities at work in order to keep your job, would you stretch yourself to a point of misrepresentation of the truth? Would you round up/down numbers in efforts to make your work presentable? Publishable? Does it really make much difference when you are only sharing information about your research work?

This is much an all too familiar situation in higher institution and research labs across the globe. With pressures to “publish or perish”, make-it-work moments, and being stretched thin, many researchers can walk a think fine line into unethical territory.

After recently reviewing several case summaries published by the US Health and Human Services Department by the Office of Research Integrity I was shocked to see just how much misconduct has been caught, researched, and corrected. Many fine researchers have had to retract statements about their work, agreed to punitive administrative corrective actions, and have to maintain a higher level of scrutiny for various imposed time frames.

In my profession, as a Licensed Professional Counselor, we have a code of ethics and professional standards which we must abide. These are outlined by the American Counseling Association (ACA) which most professional counselors are members. Even without membership in the ACA, these are the ethical codes and professional standards we are taught in our master’s level training programs.

If we are charged as researchers, would not our basic moral code be to “do no harm”? Does it make a difference depending upon the area of research? Do our subjects of study make a difference? Are there implications of our research that could cause harm to others if published or not published?

In my opinion, there are many things that really raise a multitude of more questions. As a health care professional, it is my first responsibility to do no harm. As a researcher, this code of ethics and professional standards still take precedent over my research agenda. Fortunately I know that my profession is ahead of the curve than others regarding ethical obligations and standards. My hope is that as these infractions continue to occur, that more areas of research will adapt their own, or strengthen their current, code of ethics and professional standards. For without this, it breaches our faith – in research, in helping, and in mankind.

Bigger questions for me are, if as a researcher in the face of an ethical situation:

  • Do you even know when you are in an ethical situation?
  • Do you know what to do?
  • How do you avoid the quicksand and make the best ethical decisions?
  • Is there a governing board within your profession for reviewing these?
  • Are there places for the researcher to turn for help navigating these issues/decisions?

A Night at the PFP Improv

Alan Alda, research, and graduate students. What do these three things have in common? The commonality of these come down to communication. Alan Alda, whom many know from his years of service as “Hawkeye” from the television show “M*A*S*H” is an actor/director/writer whom has always had an interest in the world of science. After hosting PBS’ Scientific American Frontiers for several years, he wondered if there was a better way for scientists and researchers to talk to others outside of their fields of study about the work they were conducting. With his background in acting, he helped to create the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science which provide workshops that employ theater improvisation activities to help scientists communicate from in a more personal way and easier to understand language.

Improvisation is being able to create without previous preparation. For many researchers, who can get bogged down with logistics and technical jargon when trying to discuss their work, speaking about something on the fly to a group does not invoke a happy feeling. How often is communication lost when researchers do not speak in a common language for those not in their field? The researchers do not want to “dumb down” their work to explain things on a simple level. The listeners do not want to “ask dumb questions” if they do not follow. What happens at the end of this conversation? Both may walk away not understanding what just occurred nor how to correct this for the future.

In my world of counseling, it is not so out of the ordinary to need to communicate complex counseling theories and terms to non-counseling trained individuals. As a researcher, I have more advantage that my audience largely consists of others. I am learning the language of research, so I can better communicate with my other scientific peers. But yet and still there seems to be that barrier of communication wherever we go.

Anxiety, apprehension, and eventually laughter were things experienced during an improvisational workshop in an effort to unlock the tensions to better aid in communicating science I attended recently. Based on the theater improvisational games utilized in the Stony Brook and Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, me and eleven of my PFP classmates (who come from all different disciplines) had the opportunity to get silly with each other. We all had to shed our fears and step into the “now” of the moment. Only our facilitator knew what we would be doing next. She had us make funny sounds, act things out with our bodies, have others share our own stories, and led us in other exercises to shake us out of our comfort zones.

I learned a lot about my peers in those moments. Regardless of our disciplines or areas of research, we are all people whom are passionate about our work. We all want to be heard, understood, and appreciated. When we let our guards down and open up to the vulnerability of sharing our heart, or our passion for our work in this regard, that some incredible magic can occur. As we “got out of our head” and became present in the now, communication became more personal and simple. We saw and heard each other as people and not lost in our own thoughts of “how can I explain and give them information about” their topic.

Perhaps the improvisational actions got us all out of “performance mode” and more into a real space of who we are as people. Maybe next time I need to speak with a group to communicate my research, I will run through an improv game or two with someone so I will not step in front of my group as “drkare” here to talk about the impact the counseling environment can have on individuals. But rather step out as “just Karen” and speak with them honestly about my passion for why I am a counselor and how it can help others.