A new project is inviting faculty to help grow a culture of responsible research from the ground up.

“Virginia Tech is experiencing impressive growth in our research enterprise. As we strive to deepen our existing community of ethical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research, we realize researchers don’t achieve their best work in a vacuum but within the context of a culture,” said Lisa M. Lee, Virginia Tech’s associate vice president for research and innovation. “We want to know what helps create a culture where maintaining the highest ethical standards is the default, and this project is going to seek those answers through researchers’ input and agency verses the more traditional top-down, checkbox-compliance approach.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Lee is the principal investigator of the five-year project that will not only use researchers’ expertise about their own areas to design better responsible research programming, but will also leverage their influence through the creation of peer-to-peer networks.

During the next five years, STEM faculty will be encouraged to participate in the project called Innovative Research and Ethical Impact. Faculty can contribute in a variety of ways, from taking short assessment surveys to joining cohorts to collaboratively explore responsible innovation and communication methods to using their professional peer networks to generate meaningful culture change.

“We want all researchers to know they are qualified to communicate research ethics to others,” said Qin Zhu, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Education. “Ethics is not something philosophically abstract. Rather, ethics is concrete and researchers are already actively engaging it in their everyday decision making. So they are the people who have the greatest potential to engage the social and ethical implications of their work.”

Zhu will serve as a co-investigator on the project, as will Kory Trott, director of the Research Integrity and Consultation Program, and Rocky Clancy, a research scientist with the Department of Engineering Education.

The project comes at a time of rapid growth in research at Virginia Tech. Based on fiscal year 2023 data estimates, the university’s research awards and expenditures have grown by more than 10 percent for the past two fiscal years.

“Our research growth is very exciting,” Lee said. “And we know that with this growth comes responsibility. Ultimately, Virginia Tech is establishing a brand where integrity and ethical impact stand at the core of our expanding research portfolio.”

Zhu said he believes the innovative method of the project has the potential to not only enhance the research culture at Virginia Tech, but also position the university as a model in the field.

“If we’re successful, outcomes of this project have the potential to greatly enhance the landscape of research ethics scholarship, outreach, and policymaking. Our findings will offer valuable insights into how research ethics education can be effectively and impactfully implemented in the U.S. and globally,” Zhu said.

Researchers can learn more about the Innovative Research and Ethical Impact project and share their expertise here.


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