Engineering ethics education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels tends to focus primarily on distinctive professional responsibilities. For undergrads, this is typically professional ethics in an industrial context; for graduate students, this is typically research ethics in an academic context. Both construe the responsibilities of the engineer relatively narrowly.
In both cases, training typically omits consideration of the social and ethical impacts of science and technology on broader society. These issues are encountered beyond the workplace or the lab, but – for better or worse – directly follow from the work done there. Therefore the engineer bears some moral responsibility for these as well.
As the NAE has helpfully highlighted recently, this expanded viewpoint has begun to take shape in some undergraduate engineering ethics courses. But what about in graduate training – where the impact of the work, and the resulting responsibility, is arguably even larger?
There remains an unmet need to help researchers become cognizant of responsibilities deriving from the social ramifications of their work, and the wider role that they as scientists play in society, as well as to learn how to exercise considered ethical leadership in all of these areas.
In 2013 the University of Notre Dame received an NSF EESE award to research and provide training in the Social Responsibilities of Researchers (SRR) to 15 PhD students per year for three years. This was followed in 2014 by an NSF CCE-STEM award to do the same for Ethical Leadership among scientists and engineers (EL-STEM). Notably, these programs were developed in parallel and each involves an extensive assessment program that attempts to capture changes in student skills and outlooks along a wide range of dimensions. Because they use the same metrics and share a common set of goals, the two programs, while having very different programming, are also being directly compared with each other in terms of efficacy.
Metrics chosen include a variety of off-the-shelf psychological scales (such as for Integrity and Community Service) as well as custom-designed scales intended to reflect the six stated goals of both programs. These are to: 1. Better understand social context; 2. Perceive the social and ethical impacts of one’s field; 3. Engage in public communication; 4. Adapt research as necessary for improved impact; 5. Self-reflect on ethical issues; and 6. Model and mentor others in these skills.
Pre- and post-test data from the assessment of the first cohorts of both EL-STEM and SRR are currently being analyzed. Initial results will be presented. The challenges of quantitatively and qualitatively assessing such a broad effort will also be discussed.
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