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This role-play focuses on the dilemmas in balancing regulatory requirements, personal relationships and a natural reluctance to “cause trouble.” These dilemmas arise in many settings, and can be particularly acute in laboratories that handle hazardous substances because of the serious safety implications of violations. In addition, violations can carry fines and penalties for laboratories and universities where they occur. The worries of the graduate student in the role-play about potential laboratory shut-downs and corresponding research delays are all too real. Specifics of regulations vary according to the materials being handled. The underlying principles regarding human and environmental safety stay the same.

In the role-play scenario, a graduate student is seeking advice from a fellow graduate student about how to balance concerns about personal safety — their own and that of others in the lab — regulatory consequences and the potential damage to relationships by asking questions about potential violations. What is the student’s responsibility to discover whether there are violations? What are the consequences for avoiding knowledge? How should those competing concerns be balanced?

The two students seem to be moving toward the conclusion that the safety issues are serious enough that some action must be taken. At this point, the issue becomes how to raise the issue professionally and in a way that minimizes hard feelings or anger with the student who raises the concerns. To avoid a “shoot the messenger” situation, the discussion should focus on constructive and effective ways to have a conversation with the disorganized adviser about the potential safety problems in the lab.


Social Dimensions of Ethical Behavior

Material Type

Teaching Module

Research Area

Engineering | Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Social and Behavioral Sciences

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Supported by the National Science Foundation under grant EEC-0628814. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Illinois or the National Science Foundation.

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