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Seminar explores funding

Henry Gens | Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Twelve undergraduate and graduate students explored the ethics of scientific funding this spring break during a Center for Social Concerns (CSC) participated in an immersion experience in Washington, D.C.  

The CSC offered the seminar, titled “Science Policy Ethics: Guiding Science through Regulation of Research and Funding,” for the first time this semester. It invited students in the science and engineering disciplines to learn more about the processes and policies behind the allotment of scientific funding by meeting with policymakers and officials firsthand.


Junior Rachel Cotton and College of Science Dean Gregory Crawford led the trip to the nation’s capital. Cotton, a biological sciences major, said the students visited federal and member-funded organizations, as well as political advisers and congressmen. She said a highlight of these visits was a presentation at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research office.


“We learned about the ethical and policy dilemmas of drug development for rare and neglected diseases,” Cotton said. “They affect such a small portion of the population that the FDA’s guidelines for study sample size, whether children should be included in trials and so on, have to be reconsidered.”


Students attended weekly preparation classes before the trip, Cotton said. The course featured speakers from various scientific and engineering disciplines who talked about funding and ethics in their particular fields.


Cotton said she first thought of creating such a course after attending a talk by Kathie Olsen, a member of Notre Dame’s research and government relations team, titled “How Not to Get an NSF Grant.”


“I thought, ‘Oh God, I really don’t know any of this stuff,'” Cotton said. “And as someone interested in pursuing a career in science, I thought it was definitely something that I should know and that others might think was important as well.”


In July, Cotton and fellow junior biological science major Roger Smith pitched to Crawford the idea of creating a seminar to explore modes of and policies behind scientific research funding.


“Rachel had this great idea that science students could really benefit from a dose of policy because as scientists, we don’t create policy, but we inform it,” Crawford said. “By offering a small seminar in conjunction with the Center for Social Concerns, we could do just that and incorporate ethical aspects as well.”