Ethical conundrum


Hi all,

I'm a PhD student working in the STEM area and was talking to a couple of Honour's students today when they started talking about some seriously unethical practices they had been part of with the encouragement of their supervisors. We all work with rodents and have a bunch of requirements as part of this, the most basic of which is to be training in all procedures we intend to do with our animals (ie. injecting, handling, literally everything). These students had been injecting as well as culling animals despite having had zero training. Not even for handling the animals. One even described their botched first attempt at culling, effectively prolonging the pain and suffering of the poor animal. I swear my heart broke when I heard them say this as, despite working with animals in a research setting, I am 100% an animal lover and fully believe all the animals we work with deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, the very least of which is acquiring adequate training to ensure minimal pain or distress to these creatures who give their life for our research against their free will.

I'm seriously distressed about this but I'm not quite sure what to do. I've read a lot of horror stories on this forum of people getting on the bad side of their department and, still having a long way to go on my PhD journey, I don't want to alienate anyone. On the other hand, I am so completely disgusted in the actions of these supervisors I don't want to say nothing. I intend to talk to my supervisor about this situation however she is currently away so I thought it would be nice to get some other opinions. This whole situation has left me feeling very down. The strong ethical standards we are forced to abide by is my justification for what I do. Hearing that there are people who flout these rules makes our work feel cheap and invalid.


If what they are saying is true then that is pretty disgusting. I am wondering if there is some higher body you could officially report this to, who would then come and investigate/audit the place. Maybe even through an animal rights group or some other body. Be careful whatever you do (although I agree you must do something). If you raise it with your supervisor then you will alerting them that you are the person who has reported it... (if you do then go on to report it). I would raise it with my supervisor only if I felt he/she would react in the same way or similar to me (and not just brush it under the carpet). If in any doubt I would try to take a more formal anonymous route.


In fact, I wouldn't even take the risk. I think I'd report it externally somewhere. Isn't there an equivalent OFSTED type thing you could go to?


I'd blow the whistle through whatever channels you can. This is unacceptable.


It's a difficult situation though, because I wouldn't mind betting other academics already know about to and are keeping it quiet as their hands are tied. I don't see how they couldn't - undergraduates talk. I would take it to your supervisor, see what their response is, and then think about what action you can take if they don't do anything about it.

Avatar for Pjlu

I think, as you and others have posted, I would raise it with my supervisor as well. In the meantime, can you report the issue anonymously to relevant ethics committee who oversees these projects at your university, or if you know any of the staff, raise it in person (or via phone) as a 'concern'?

The staff member may be able to clarify with you the issue, the level of risk and what actions need to be taken, and do this in a way that does not get people off side but ensures the humane treatment and welfare of the animals are taken care of appropriately.


Home office is the body responsible for giving out the licenses in the UK. I would make a call there.


If you don't feel comfortable raising the issue with your supervisor or ethics committee contacts, then your institution should have a confidential whistleblowing policy which enables you to raise concerns anonymously.


I chair the ethics committee in my school, if this was going on I would want to know about it and I would take immediate and serious action to prevent any repeat. I would certainly think any academic supporting this should face investigation.
Most ethics panels are ultimately reporting to very senior management, so I think there would be action taken at the highest levels, so if I was you I would contact the chair of your ethics committee and discuss this with them, I think you will find they are very supportive of you and very concerned about what has been happening.
Good luck with it and please do report it! It is far from acceptable practice.


Hi Apricots. Did you decide on what to do?


Make sure you are keeping your interest and blow the whistle.