Navigating Conflicts of Interest with Industrial Research

Sandra was excited about being accepted as a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Frederick, a leading scholar in the field, and she embarked on her assigned research project eagerly. But after a few months she began to have misgivings. Though part of Dr. Frederick’s work was supported by federal grants, the project on which she was working was totally supported by a grant from a single company. She had known this before coming to the lab and had not thought it would be a problem. But she had not known that Dr. Frederick also had a major consulting agreement with the company. She also heard from other graduate students that when it came time to publish her work, any paper would be subject to review by the company to determine if any of her work was patentable.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Sandra doing research sponsored entirely by a single company?
  2. How can she address the specific misgivings she has about her research?
  3. If Sandra wishes to discuss her qualms with someone at her university, to whom should she turn?

“Navigating Conflicts of Interest with Industrial Research,” is Part 6 of our “On Being a Scientist” series, where we explore the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 7 of our series.

Further Reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press

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