NSF Grant Aims to Support STEM Lab Cultures of Best Practices


Amber Rose

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign National Center for Principled Leadership and Research Ethics Director C.K. Gunsalus and University of California Riverside Research Ethics Education Program Director Dena Plemmons have been awarded funding to support STEM labs to develop tailored comprehensive data management plans with the goal of creating and sustaining cultures of best practice.

C.K. Gunsalus (left) and Dena Plemmons (right)
C.K. Gunsalus (left) and Dena Plemmons (right)

The 3-year, $303,613 collaborative research grant is from the National Science Foundation and jointly funded by the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Innovations in Graduate Education, and Ethical and Responsible Research programs.

An earlier project by Plemmons and colleagues at UCR demonstrated that a deliberative conversation approach to lab-based communication improved the way research labs talked about and handled issues of authorship. Plemmons explains the deliberative communication approach as “the idea that if you are a part of a group, you have both the right and the responsibility to ensure that the norms under which the group is operating, the standards, and the practices are communally decided. That there is an opportunity to have candid discussions about what those norms are and to have respectful and civil disagreements about those norms until you come to an understanding of what those are.”

That project showed effectiveness of the deliberative communication approach to authorship. This project will adapt the approach to focus on the topic of data management.  The first phase of this project (research) will focus on the causal effects of a deliberative communication intervention on data management in federally funded STEM and biomedical research labs at UIUC. The effectiveness of the approach to the topic of data management will be assessed by determining the quality of the labs’ data management plans and their internal communication before and after the intervention via the use of surveys. The second phase (development) will build on the findings of the research phase to create responsible conduct of research materials to develop toolkits to disseminate widely to researchers. These toolkits will build on NCPRE’s expertise in creating relevant and engaging video and case study materials to help each individual lab create tailored management plans that fit their own research personnel, equipment, and methods.

Gunsalus says that “creating materials is a good place to start to get people to use the tools we believe to be helpful and effective, that are perhaps not intuitively and obviously useful to people trained in STEM fields. It’s to be creative and try to do things that make them appealing, understandable, and open people’s mind to be willing to try them.”