Reilly Center co-sponsors inaugural Ethics Workshop for Notre Dame doctoral students

Author: Jessica Baron

On Monday, January 17, 2012 the Graduate School hosted its first Ethics Workshop, a new requirement for all incoming doctoral students at Notre Dame. The event was co-hosted by the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values and drew 254 students from the Schools of Science, Engineering, and Arts & Letters.      

The workshop aimed to create an awareness of and sensitivity to ethical situations and to inform students about the resources available at Notre Dame. In his opening remarks, Greg Sterling, Dean of the Graduate School, encouraged attendees to think about three sets of ethical obligations: the public, the professional, and the personal. Students then engaged in group discussions and role-playing exercises where they were asked to balance these three obligations.

“Many students were already thinking about the sorts of ethical concerns that they need to be aware of in their research and teaching careers,” said Charles Pence, one of nine workshop facilitators and a graduate student in the History and Philosophy of Science graduate program. “The workshop gave them a great chance to discuss these issues in a group of their peers and to try to think through them before they are actually confronted by them in the real world.”

Melinda Gormley, emcee for the event and Assistant Director of Research at the Reilly Center, led students through the day’s activities. The first focused on career choices: what would students do if their job required them to perform duties in conflict with their personal ethics and their obligations to the public? The second case study pertained to academics and allowed students to discuss the responsible conduct of research, the falsification and fabrication of research data, plagiarism, and issues of confidentiality. The workshop concluded with a keynote address by Alasdair MacIntyre, the Rev. John A. O’Brien Senior Research Professor of Philosophy (emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame entitled “Everyday Ethics, Ethics of Crisis.”

The ethics workshop was developed after a joint recommendation from the Graduate Council and the Director of Graduate Studies panel in 2009-2010 that all PhD students complete a 3-hour ethics requirement before leaving Notre Dame. In addition to the Reilly Center, the event was co-sponsored by the Graduate School, the Graduate Student Union’s Teaching, Research, Ethics, and Career (TREC) Committee, the Career Center, the Kaneb Center, the Office of Research, and the Center for Social Concerns.

The Graduate School’s Professional Development Team will continue to offer seminars throughout the semester that focus on teaching, research, and professional ethics. For more ambitious students, the Reilly Center offers a concurrent Master’s degree with a concentration in Ethics in Science and Technology.