Robin Rogers Case supplemental information.

It's important to understand the situation in this case. Robin Rogers is not enrolled in a laboratory class taught by Larry Lin. Rather, she is a graduate student in Larry Lin's research lab. Essentially, this means that Prof. Lin is her boss -- he has the power to change what she's working on, to take a project she has developed and give it to someone else, even to fire her. He's also the one deciding when her research is ready to present at professional meetings, when it's ready to write up and submit for publication in a scientific journal, and when she's ready to write up their research as a dissertation and defend it before other professors from their department.

This is a lot of power. And keep in mind that just because someone has power to do certain things does not mean that it would be ethical for them to actually do those things!

In this case, Kevin Semple is a postdoc -- a scientist who has earned a Ph.D. but who doesn't yet have a permanent academic position or his own laboratory. Most postdocs secure their own funding, but they still depend on a PI (like Larry Lin) to host them in their lab, provide them with an institutional affiliation and, most importantly, with additional mentoring and guidance. It's usually assumed that postdocs need less mentoring than grad students, but given that they are often learning new experimental techniques, or applying techniques they know to new research programs, they still need some mentoring.

If Kevin Semple gets no significant publications from his postdoc in Prof. Lin's lab, will he be unable to get a permanent academic position and his own lab? It's hard to know for sure. Publications certainly make getting a job easier, but some people without publications still get jobs — and sometimes people with publications don't get jobs!

Also note that in graduate research, you generally have the same advisor until you get your degree – so switching to another lab may amount to starting from scratch and losing years’ worth of work. It might not even be possible for a grad student to switch labs, as there may not be another advisor willing to provide them funding for such a fresh start.

We'll talk more about the issue of authorship later in the term, but for this case it's enough to know that being first author of a scientific journal article is a significant career achievement — especially for a grad student! Being second author is less of an achievement, since it suggests that you only played a supporting role in the research reported in the article. In some graduate programs, publishing your own original research is so important that it is an expectation on the way to the PhD — your dissertation (the long, multi-chapter work you write describing your graduate research) may end up being a collection of your journal articles.

A general note about the Robin Rogers Case (and all of the case studies in this course): the case is described from the point of view of the person who needs to make a decision (here, Robin). However, her perception of the situation may not be completely accurate -- she may be what literary critics call an "unreliable narrator". For example, she views the project whose results Prof. Lin wants her to hand over to Kevin as the result of her creativity and hard work, but it's possible she's underestimating the contributions (in coming up with the research question or experimental approach, in trouble-shooting the details, in interpreting the results) of others to the project. She feels that her findings are so central to her dissertation project that giving them to someone else will be a major setback in her progress towards her degree, but maybe it won't be. She may think she know what Prof. Lin wants or needs from her, but she might be mistaken.

Part of making a good ethical decision is sorting out the details you can be sure about from the details that are less certain, weighing your dearest hopes and your biggest fears against other possibilities. We are always making decisions with imperfect information -- none of us has perfect knowledge of what all the consequences of our actions will be. Still, waiting until we have perfect information (which would take forever at the earliest) is deciding not to do anything in the meantime -- and that can have consequences, too.