By: Anthony Hall
After attending school for a certain amount of years, classes can become routine. It is easy for one to get lost in their sardonic feelings and to become adversarial towards the idea that they “must take” a particular class. As much as I would like to write that I am above such feelings, I became lost in the gloom-ridden, bleak, and downright cynical idea of me taking another semester class so soon after completing graduate school. When my supervisor suggested that I take this class, my fake smile could hardly contain my contempt, prompting her to ask, “Is that okay with you?” I replied with a tried and true response, “yes! I have a headache, that’s all.” I could never imagine that I was about to be thrust into one of the most memorable experiences in my professional career that would open my mind, broaden my horizon, and unlock ideas that I didn’t know.
It troubles me to admit that I was unfamiliar with what RCR stood for and why it was something I needed to understand. However, after my first class, I quickly grasped the importance of responsible conduct of research (RCR) and why it is invaluable to science. While I admire its definition in its entirety, it is the last sentence of the definition for RCR that had the most significant impact, ” boosting public confidence in scientific knowledge and progress for the public good.”
My time as a high school teacher provides me with a unique understanding of the importance of Comprehension and the Voluntariness of human participants in studies. As a high school teacher, my job was to collect data from students. One could argue that a teacher is two jobs in one: teaching and data management. To gain favor with the school board or receive the necessary funding, our school would augment students’ data without the students or parents fully comprehending or voluntarily providing the information. For example, during Covid, we required students to take state exams that would go into their permanent file; this was a prickly situation because students were on shaky wifi, taking the test in less than ideal home situations, or didn’t have access to the test. Nevertheless, our school collected data from these students without fully explaining what was happening.
I understand some may not feel that a school neglecting to explain to students the impact a test will have on their future is not the same as the Nuremberg Trials. Nevertheless, I would argue that The Belmont Report (1979) clarifies that researchers should minimize risks, ensure research is equitable and give informed consent. Our school did not reduce risks by having students take the test in a disparate environment and not providing students and parents with a chance to opt out. It failed to meet the three ethical principles that The Belmont Report (1979) refers to as the cornerstone for regulations involving humans.
Because I was a young teacher starting in the field, I am not sure understanding The Belmont Report would have helped me; however, at least I would know that my thoughts of “this is wrong” were based on more than a feeling. The Belmont Report (1979) taught me that we should adhere to minimum ethical stands to protect human beings. Also, if human beings feel as if they may experience harm, they may choose not to take part or trust in research, which will hinder the boosting of public confidence in scientific knowledge and progress for the public good.
If the Belmont Report was a wake-up call for me, then the mentor-mentee relationship lesson was a type of divination. I understood that a mentor should always be there for their mentee and help develop ideas and overcome challenges, which allows the mentee to achieve their future goals. I did not know that this is a complicated practice, and for a specific community of doctoral students, it is a nightmare that borderlines a potential crisis.
Lynch (2021) explains how important it is to understand each person’s relationship, boundaries, and responsibilities involved in a mentor-mentee relationship. However, to set boundaries and understand each other’s roles, we must call on skills we may not have learned in school. For example, Lynch (2021) illustrates how time management and maximizing productivity can help the mentor and the mentee advert any potential roadblocks. In a perfect world, the mentor would help the mentee write down their schedule and provide tools to help them prioritize the most critical work. However, Lynch (2021) explains that far too many professors do not possess time management skills, so it is impractical for them to lead their mentees in this endeavor.
This lesson was particularly relevant to a situation that I am working through in my current position. I have a person who is training me, and it started bumpily. We did not establish boundaries, and our lack of communication led to us not understanding each other’s roles, which caused us to doubt each other’s intentions. In addition, this person was my supervisor, which made life quite cumbersome for me. Regardless of the adversity, I dove headfirst into this lesson for tips to help me overcome this obstacle.
Lynch (2021) states that individuals need to respect each other’s qualifications and the other person’s needs. There needs to be mutual respect for the mentor and the mentee’s time, effort, and capabilities. Unlike the Belmont Report, which called on me to look outside of myself for the answer, Lynch called on me to look within myself. I asked, “am I respectful of this person’s time? And am I putting in as much effort to understand them as I require to be understood?” After pondering for a bit, I realized that I had a responsibility as a mentee to ensure that I was doing my part to bridge this gap. Lynch (2021) talked about how personality differences and different characteristics between the mentor and mentee can determine a successful vs. unsuccessful mentor-mentee relationship. Still, I wasn’t going to allow that to stop me.
Based on what I learned from Lynch (2021) and our in-class discussions, I decided to meet with my mentor to write down what I needed from them and ask them to write down what they needed from me. We established a clear understanding of mutual responsibilities, a commitment to maintaining a productive and supportive research environment, and proper supervision and review of my work. Things could not be better.
The Belmont Report provided me the confidence I needed to speak up the next time I am in a situation where I see someone is not treating data properly. Lynch (2021) is responsible for me having the tools to move through a problematic mentor-mentee situation at work. However, Sibbald, Kang, & Graham’s article on Collaborative Health Research Partnerships: A Survey of Researcher and Knowledge-User Attitudes and Perceptions had the most significant impact on my overall goal of boosting public confidence in scientific knowledge and progress for the public good.
If approached correctly, research partnerships can provide a certain level of quality and validity to research that invokes a certain amount of trust within communities. In addition, it can help underrepresented communities to gain much-needed exposure by partnering with other researchers.
Sibbald, Kang, & Graham (2019) explains how the partnership between Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States creates opportunities for researchers to improve their work’s relevance and usefulness. Despite its benefits, it can be an intricate process for researchers to merge their knowledge with an individual’s general understanding of a topic. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, commonly referred to as CIHR, refers to this approach as integrated knowledge translation, or is frequently referred to as IKT.
IKT is a helpful tool for me because it bridges the gap between the abstract and “boots on the ground.” It is indispensable to have those communities who would benefit from the research working with those authoring the research. The two groups can learn from one another while hurdling obstacles that could divide the two communities. For this reason, Sibbald, Kang, & Graham (2019) had the most significant impact on me.
On a personal note, I think our country is heading down a dangerous path of misinformation. While working on my graduate degree at Hopkins, I remember reading a study by Norbert Schwarz and Rolf Reber entitled, Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth. In short, the study pointed out how the color of the font a writer uses in an article or paper played a sizable role in whether participants believed what they were reading. While I do not have the space in this paper to go into more detail, it is safe to say that if Americans are using font color to determine whether or not they believe a story, researchers have their work cut out for them. I learned that a great deal goes into whether a person believes something or not, and much of it has little to do with the information they are reading.
For my part, I must understand The Belmont Report (1979) to grasp my ethical responsibility, understand how to use the lessons from Lynch (2021) to create better working relationships, and grasp how IKT can bridge gaps between researchers and knowledge base users. There is a common theme amongst these impactful resources: responsible research. By using these three resources, I can help to boost public confidence in scientific knowledge and progress for the public good.
Thank you for the great class.
Chaudhari, P., & Eberle, R. (n.d.). Human Subjects/Participants Research & Gw Irb Review Process. RCR & GW and Beyond.
Lynch, R. (2021, March). Mentor-Mentee Relationship. RCR @ GW and Beyond.
Reber, R., & Scharz, N. (1999). Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth. https://carlo-hamalainen.net/stuff/Reber_Schwarz_Perceptual_fluency.pdf. Retrieved April 13, 2022, from https://carlo-hamalainen.net/stuff/Reber_Schwarz_Perceptual_fluency.pdf
Sibbald, S. L., Kang, H., & Graham, I. D. (2019). Collaborative Health Research Partnerships: A survey of researcher and knowledge-user attitudes and perceptions. Health Research Policy and Systems, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-019-0485-3