SRR - An NSF-funded PhD student training program in socially-engaged science and engineering research and leadership
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What is SRR?
SRR stands for the Social Responsibilities of Researchers. The Social Responsibilities of Researchers program in the Reilly Center aims to equip and motivate emerging scientists and engineers to be cognizant of the connections their research has with society, adaptive in steering their research in light of these, and able to engage the public and policy makers in an effort to optimize its impact and relevance. In doing so, these researchers will become leaders and models of ethical engagement for their peers and students.
SRR lies uniquely at the locus of a number of major intersecting concerns: social engagement (including policy), ethical and social issues, and the particular nature of the scientific research.
The SRR program features sustained, discipline-focused mentoring for any area of science and engineering, plus an ongoing practicum project to put the training to immediate use.
Along with social engagement and communication, SRR takes in the broader ethical and social landscape as an explicit, overriding concern, in order to help the student productively engage the larger-scale social and ethical issues related to their research.
For those interested specifically in environmental issues, social engagement and science communication are also one focus of the GLOBES certificate in the Reilly Center.
How is SRR different than the ethics training I've already had?
As researchers, the ethics training most graduate students receive is RCR – Responsible Conduct of Research. Essentially, RCR covers the ethics of research within the lab or in fieldwork, covering issues such as data integrity, authorship, subject protections and workplace relationships. But there are many larger-scale ethical issues related to scientific and technological research beyond what occurs inside these confines. Indeed, the social and ethical stakes of research are enormous, and these issues are pressing even when the internal conduct of the research is impeccable.
So while RCR training is essential, it is not sufficient to address the most significant impacts that scientific research has on society. This is where training in the Social Responsibilities of Researchers (SRR) comes in. What distinguishes SRR is its concern with social engagement and these big-picture issues.
Scientists and engineers have responsibilities to society that transcend the conduct of the research itself. Much as a physician should render aid to an ailing stranger, scientists have highly specialized skills relevant to pressing social issues. Having these skills when most do not confers certain moral and professional obligations. And just as physicians strive to do no harm and ensure that the outcome of their work is positive, scientists have an inherent responsibility not just for the ethical practice of their research, but at least to some extent for the social and ethical ramifications of their work.
Make your science matter to society by making society matter to your science
Many of the most pressing social, political and ethical issues in contemporary society – from energy and transportation to biotechnology and healthcare – have integral scientific and technological dimensions. Scientists and engineers possess the deepest and most relevant technical expertise regarding these issues.
So, what responsibilities does having this expertise convey? Should you apply your expertise to these issues? Or ensure that the results of your work make it to those who need them to make policy, reach informed opinions, or conduct further research?
Moreover, scientific and technological research continues to transform society, introducing new and complex social and ethical issues of its own. Is the researcher at all responsible for the impacts on society flowing from their work?
The SRR program is organized around six learning goals. In SRR, students will:
Become more sophisticated in their understanding of the broad social and political context their work takes place within
Learn to think about the impact their work could have, whether in downstream consequences or in social relevance
Communicate and interact better and more responsibly with the general public, with stakeholders in their research, with cross-disciplinary collaborators, and with policy makers
As appropriate, adapt their research to enhance its social relevance and impact, including modifying its direction or its conduct
Become more cognizant of their own values, motivations and ethical orientation, so they can drive further ethical change and defend against complacency
Act as a mentor and ethical model, and help change the culture of their lab, field or discipline by serving as an example of ethical engagement
The program itself is one year long and consists of six kinds of activities:
A comprehensive, intensive one-week “Boot Camp”
An in-service project, customized to your research and goals and crafted and executed in ongoing collaboration with a mentor
A series of debriefing and support sessions throughout the year following the boot camp
Online portfolios and discussion sites to share and collaborate with fellow participants
Opportunities to expand and extend your training and experience in ethics beyond this program, including graduate minors and other certificates
Click the image at right to enlarge
This program is exclusively for second- and third-year PhD students in the sciences (both natural and social) or engineering.
Applications are made in the preceding year as a first- or second-year student.
The program can accept only 15 students per year.
Please note that 2017 is the final year of the current NSF-funded program. While we hope to have a permanent program following the sunset of NSF support, a permanent program is not yet in place and there will likely be a gap in time between them.
Apply to the Program
Applications for the 2017 cohort (the third and final of the program) will be accepted from January 9 until February 13.
Applications consist of:
- A completed online application form to collect your basic information
- A cover letter explaining your background and interest in the program (by email)
- A resume or CV (by email)
- One letter of recommendation (by email, sent by recommender)
The letter should come from a major professor, lab director, or director of graduate studies and certify that the student will be afforded the time necessary for the Boot Camp as well as the required, follow-on activities.
We estimate the ongoing time commitment (following the Boot Camp) at only 1-2 hours per week, with the student exercising significant discretion over how much time to invest beyond the minimum. Applicants should demonstrate evidence of sophistication and commitment above the norm.
Please note the following guidelines:
- The online form collects basic information only. Remaining materials must be supplied by email to complete the application.
- Cover letter and resume may be emailed as attachments to Mark Bourgeois at email@example.com.
- When submitting your additional application materials, please use the subject line "Lastname Application to SRR", inserting your last name.
- Letter of recommendation should be emailed by the recommender themselves to same address.
- SRR is itself a research project into how to teach social responsibilities in STEM. As such, you will be asked to consent to occasional measurements of your learning experience such as surveys, interviews and the evaluation of any materials you develop. Formal consent forms will be presented upon acceptance to the SRR program.
For additional information, see our FAQ on applying to SRR.
Applications to the 2017 program are now closed.
For the 2017 program:
Applications open January 9
Application deadline February 13
Accepted applicants will be notified by March 13
Program commences with Boot Camp the week of May 22 – 26, 2017
The 2017 program will run through the end of April, 2018
In addition to the primary benefit of intensive training and enhanced perspective, students participating in the program will receive a number of material incentives, including:
$1,400 stipend (paid in two installments)
1 course credit per term of participation (3 credits total, including summer)
A certificate of completion
For answers to Frequently Asked Questions, see our FAQ on applying to SRR.
Direct emails for more information to Mark Bourgeois at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a downloadable brochure to share with students and faculty, click here.
The NSF Grant for Ethics Education in Science and Engineering
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1338652. Learn more about the award supporting this work from the National Science Foundation's Ethics Education in Science and Engineering (EESE) program.