Research and Education in Ethics and Leadership

The Reilly Center has partnered with the Graduate School to carry out a research project on ethical leadership in STEM. The National Science Foundation funds this research as well as the two educational programs it will compare.  


The Problem

Many scientists and engineers take on substantial leadership roles at some point in their careers, whether it is in industry, in academia, in government, or in their own labs.  As STEM students they received intensive training in the skills of their disciplines.  But they have generally not had training in the skills of leadership and ethics.  Yet research has shown that the single most important factor in organizations that behave ethically is the character of their leadership: ethical leadership establishes a culture of ethics for the entire organization.  

Our research project will thus focus on the question: since cultivating cultures for ethical STEM requires effective leadership, what training content and methods most successfully turn STEM students into ethical leaders?

We will assess and compare two different leadership training programs against each other and a control group. One program, called EL-STEM, is grounded in the research and literature of business and management ethics. The other, called SRR, grows out of the research and literature on ethics training for STEM students.


Both training programs are now underway, and detailed assesment data in both is now being collected.  As they become available, the results of this research will be published and disseminated widely.

Each training program will run for three years.  At the end of this time, Notre Dame has committed to creating a blended training program based on the findings of each program’s most successful aspects.  We plan to support this program internally on a permanent basis. 

Thus, not only will the results of this research help the ethics education community at large, but they will be put to immediate use here at the University of Notre Dame.  

Details on the Two Training Programs

While there are varying ways of providing it, we know that ethics training in general is more effective when it goes beyond the classroom and involves actual service activities. Both of Notre Dame’s one-year programs in ethics and leadership have participants put their learning into practice through an in-service project, matching words with deeds. 

Social Responsibilities of Researchers (SRR) at the Reilly Center

The socially-responsible researcher serves society by anticipating impacts of their research, shaping its outcomes, and engaging the public. SRR is concerned with the ethical responsibilities arising from the use of scientific research and technological developments in society. It produces researchers capable of considering deeply the effects of science and technology on society as well as conveying to researchers that they have a public responsibility and need to incorporate thinking about social impacts into the research and development process. Its content is primarily drawn from literature in research ethics for STEM field and the history and philosophy of science (HPS).

Ethical Leaders in STEM (EL-STEM) at the Graduate School

EL-STEM helps graduate students to gain a better understanding of themselves, others, and the organizations in which they serve. As leaders in their fields, they will apply their training in a manner informed by the University’s core values of integrity, accountability, teamwork, leadership in mission, and leadership in excellence. Its content is primarily drawn from literature in business ethics and leadership.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF awards 1449469 (EL-STEM) and 1338652 (SRR). 
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.