Ali Mattu, PhD, wasn’t really listening to what his professor was saying. Instead, he was studying for his qualifying exams, using a presentation a friend had
given in the same class a few years earlier. Then something
strange happened: The professor started saying out loud the
words that Mattu was reading.
“I looked up and realized my professor was plagiarizing what
the student had presented in the class two or three years before,”
Mattu told participants at APA’s 2013 Education Leadership
Conference. “It was a really scary situation.”
That’s just one kind of ethical conflict faced by psychology
graduate students and trainees, said Mattu, now a faculty
member at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and
Related Disorders. Mattu outlined several concerns:
• Unethical behavior by superiors. Mattu’s experience
isn’t unique. Graduate students frequently witness unethical
behavior by professors, supervisors and mentors, whether it’s
plagiarism, falsified data, confidentiality breaches or other
problems. But students typically aren’t trained to handle
conflicts involving those with power over them. “There are
consequences for reporting your superiors,” said Mattu. “We
need to debate as a field how to help students when they
encounter ethical conflicts with superiors.”
• Unacknowledged power dynamics. Faculty members don’t
always keep in mind the power they have over students, which
can make those students reluctant to challenge them. To be
ethical, said Mattu, faculty members should be upfront about
such issues as who gets authorship credit on publications.
Are we overlooking ethical
problems in training?
An early career psychologist shares concerns about ethical issues
encountered in training.