Citizen Scientists: A Training Program in Ethics and Leadership

A NSF-funded program that aims to produce researchers and leaders in the sciences and engineering who consider the ethical aspects of their work.

This training program tackles topics at the intersection of science and society, such as safeguarding one’s scientific integrity while participating in outreach and engagement with diverse publics and policymakers, or thinking through the possible negative impacts of one’s research products. Using virtue ethics, this ethical leadership training program develops ethical character that infuses virtues, values, and ethical decision making. 

Graduates of the program will have the ability to perform scientific and technological research with an eye on the implications for society, and pass this approach on to their own students and peers. Generalized training in ethics is presented to all students and targeted mentoring is provided to each student while s/he carries out a project that applies newly acquired ethics training to their respective field of expertise. The training seeks to empower the students to serve as models with the expectation that, as leaders and mentors, they will become effective agents of change.

Change Agent Program Training Components

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The training program begins with preparatory reading and an intensive, week-long boot camp followed by service-learning projects, brown-bag sessions, and a virtual ethics commons room. Each of these components promote student learning through practice and interaction. Each student is assigned a mentor from among the leadership team, who will help shepherd the further development and refinement of the service-learning project. Each trainee also has access to the program leadership for one-to-one mentoring.

Boot Camp

Those selected for the boot camp will be required to do significant prior preparation, mainly in the form of a reading list covering theoretical frameworks, the specific topics or examples to be studied, and fundamentals of science communication. The content of the boot camp will be divided evenly between, on the one hand,  mastery of issues and theoretical tools and, on the other hand, enhancing skills of communication and engagement, all consonant with the idea of developing citizen-scientists as change agents.  

Service-learning Projects

Each student in the boot camp designs a service-learning project to be implemented the year following the boot camp’s completion. The service-learning projects infuse the campus with additional ethics opportunities and give the students exposure as role models. Specific forms might include:

Service-learning projects will take a wide variety of forms and touch upon a broad range of issues. The common theme will be the students functioning as model citizen-scientist agents of change.

Browns Bags

During the year, participants join in regular bi-weekly debriefing brown-bags. They meet as a group to share experiences, trade ideas, compare strategies, and make presentations about their service-learning projects under the guidance of the leadership team. These regular meetings are a crucial part of the program, aimed not only at affording opportunities for reinforcement and support but also at maintaining a sense of community among program participants as colleagues in a larger change exercise.

Virtual Ethics Commons Room

The Virtual Ethics Commons Room is a dedicated, loosely-structured, cloud-based gathering space. It allows students to share information, consult about problems and challenges, post memos and advertisements, gripe, gossip, emote, and opine. It provides a space beyond the debriefing brown-bags where students can focus on their ongoing ethics training, service-learning projects, degree-related work, and maturing presence within their communities as agents of change.