Ethics Education

Ethics Education is an increasingly important component of the pre-professional training of scientists. Funding agencies (NSF, NIH) require training of graduate students in the responsible conduct of research, employers are increasingly expecting their workers to have basic training in ethics, and the public demands the highest standards of ethical conduct by scientists. Yet, few faculty have the requisite training to effectively teach about ethics in their classes, or even informally in mentoring students working in their labs.

This module has been developed to meet the need of introducing ethics education into the STEM curriculum:

  • For faculty, resources, case studies, and teaching activities are provided to facilitate instruction in ethics within established geo "core" courses or in a dedicated course on "Ethics and Nanoscience";
  • For students, resources are provided to help expand their understanding of ethical situations that may arise in their careers, and to give them the tools they need to appropriately address these issues.
  • To start: Take a look at this video on The Ethics of Nanotechnology--developed by the Microelectronics Research Center, University of Texas-Austin.
How to Use this Module: We have assembled a large collection of references and related resources on topics that impact professional practice and workplace "climate". Use these resources to start the conversation: in your classes, in the coffee room, in departmental meetings and seminars. These issues cannot remain an "open secret" and demand to be explicitly addressed. Use the resources in this module to discuss with colleagues/students and for personal reflection. Are you doing all you can to ensure that your work environment ascribes to the highest standards of professionalism?

Responsible Conduct of Science

Much of the ethics training in the STEM disciplines is focused on the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). This training is now a requirement for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows supported by research grants from the National Science Foundation. The following is a collection of resources that support training in RCR. Responsible conduct of research focuses on the ethical "doing of science" and enompasses topics such as: plagiarism, falsification of data, treatment of data and data management, negligence, fraud, laboratory safety, authorship, peer review, publication, collaboration, intellectual property, conflicts of interest, reproduciblity, and reporting and whistleblowing. A collection of resources that address these topics is available at

Responsible Conduct of Research--initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Professionalism: Responsible Conduct of Scientists

Beyond Responsible Conduct of Research, attention to the Responsible Conduct of Scientists is every bit as important for the progress of Science--ensuring that EVERYONE has the right to a safe, inclusive welcoming, and productive work environment. Professionalism in the STEM disciplines refers to the behaviors and attitudes of scientists and engineers as they interact with colleagues in the work environment and with the public in serving a wide variety of societal needs. The following topics address numerous issues of professionalism that impact the ability of scientists to do their work and for Science to progress. Please use this module as a guide for self-assessment of your classes, lab, department or program. Are there issues that you should be aware of? The goal is to help identify instances of unprofessional conduct, to prevent these from becoming major issues, and to provide the support to encourage scientists to act to mitigate and resolve these issues.

Topics Addressed in this Module

This module on Professionalism was initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. (Un)Profesessional Behaviors. Workplace climate. Sexual Harassment and Bullying. Building a department/workplace climate where everyone can succeed. Although examples may derive from the Geosciences, the principles presented are universal among the STEM disciplines. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Ethics and Self: Personal Dispositions

How do students learn right from wrong in their pre-professional training? Personal value systems are developed in the context of the values and expectations of the profession, but ultimately individuals are responsible for their own value systems and behaviors. Goals of training scientists in Ethics include 1) developing the ability of to recognize ethical dilemmas and their implications, and 2) providing a "toolkit" of strategies and practices to employ ethical decision-making to address these issues. This website includes reflections on self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors, how to address controversial issues, critical-thinking, personal values, and moral decision-making. A collection of resources that address these topics is available at:

Ethics and Self--initially created for the Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum project, and further developed for this project. Use your "back" button to return to this Nanoscience module.

Ethical Decision-Making and Assessment of Moral Reasoning

Ethical Reasoning Can Be Taught: Ethical reasoning is a way of thinking about issues of right and wrong. Processes of reasoning can be taught, and school is an appropriate place to teach them. the reason that, although parents and religious schools may teach ethics, they don't always teach ethical reasoning. See the article by: Sternberg, Robert J. Teaching for Ethical Reasoning in Liberal Education. Liberal Education 96.3 (2010): 32-37.

Ethical Decision-Making A more complete treatment of Ethical Decision-Making presents numerous strategies to help encourage development of these practical skills. Note: ethical decision-making is closely aligned with related critical-thinking skills. Encourage students to use and practice these strategies that can be used in a wide range of emergent ethical challenges they will face in their careers and personal lives.

And, like learning to play baseball or play the violin, it's important to practice early and often. This module presents a Seven-step guide to ethical decision-making (Davis, M. (1999) Ethics and the university, New York: Routledge, p. 166-167.

For faculty: Class activities can routinely be built into any STEM class to present ethical issues and dilemmas for students to address. We provide additional resources on Methods of Assessment of Ethical Reasoning, Values, Moral Thinking.

Nanoscience + Ethics = Nanoethics; Societal and Ethical Implications (SEI)

Nanoethics addresses the societal and ethical implications (SEI) of the advancement of nanotechnology/science as it impacts humans, society and the environment. As nanotechnology/science advances, it is important to also consider the associated potential risks and hazards. This module explores emerging issues of nanoethics, as viewed through the lens of established standards and expectations of Responsible Conduct of Research and Responsible Conduct of Researchers.

Nanoethics and Societal and Ethical Implications