Ethics Center to develop leadership curriculum for Howard Hughes Medical Institute

For scientific leaders today, it’s not enough to generate rigorous and reproducible research. What sets researchers apart is their ability to lead—building a healthy and inclusive work environment, developing early career scientists, and making the right decisions in a wide variety of tough situations. But how? Even the best researchers have rarely received any formal training in the complex role of being a scientific leader.

Researchers from the University of Illinois’ National Center for Professional & Research Ethics (NCPRE) are developing a new curriculum for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a nonprofit research organization that employs scientists at more than 60 universities, hospitals, and other research institutions nationwide. The curriculum will support HHMI scientists in creating a culture that encourages the highest levels of excellence and productivity, by coaching them in specific strategies and behaviors for dealing with ethical challenges. The $2.6 million initiative is called “Labs That Work … For Everyone.”

HHMI President Erin O’Shea added: “HHMI’s model is based on supporting ‘people, not projects’ in biomedical science. We identify and broadly support the best basic scientists we can. We believe that support should include guidance on how to lead the complex, adaptive organization that is every lab today. We’re looking forward to learning alongside the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics as this curriculum begins to take shape.

“The work of science is team-based, yet when faculty are given responsibility for managing laboratories and developing the careers of their students, they are given limited support or preparation for those roles and responsibilities,” said C.K. Gunsalus, director of the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics and professor emeritus in the Coordinated Science Lab.

“This initiative will address that void by supporting leadership development for lab leaders—and for their lab members, who are the research leaders of the future. It will cover ethical laboratory and scientific practices, improving cultural competence, and helping researchers to work together effectively, including dealing with conflicts, difficult decisions, and interpersonal problems.”

The NCPRE team will develop a multimedia curriculum specific to the scientific research environment, focusing on:

  • environments that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, and enhance productivity;
  • behaviors and positive uses of power vs. abuses such as harassment and bullying;
  • leadership including group management and mentoring of trainees;
  • responsible research conduct leading to rigorous, reproducible research.

NCPRE plans to pilot two modules in 2021 for HHMI, using Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) as a parallel testbed. The innovative structure of the IGB, which leverages interdisciplinary team science strategies in life science research to tackle grand societal challenges, makes the institute an ideal participant. Their faculty, postdoctoral, and student communities provide a robust environment for the development of these inclusive curriculum goals. Pending the outcome of this early work, a full curriculum for HHMI scientists could follow.


National Center for Professional & Research Ethics

The National Center for Professional & Research Ethics (NCPRE) develops values-driven, effective leaders and advances institutional integrity through intentional professional development. It creates and shares resources to support the development of better ethics and leadership practices, in a variety of institutional settings, from academia to business. NCPRE is part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.