Professionalism

Illustrative Cases

Illustrative cases (Graduate Studies):

These cases are intended to start conversations about professionalism in the workplace, classroom, or clinical space. They are examples of situations that many of us may find ourselves in, or identify with, in some way. They can be used as stems for educational conversations about professionalism, in one-on-one sessions or group settings. The goal is not to find the ‘perfect solution’, but rather, to be aware of the nuances at play, and to become aware of each person’s perspective, in order to make the best decision, for that moment in time.


Case 1: “Why only me? She always picks on me!”

Laila has been working in the same lab for 1 year. During this time, her preceptor has provided feedback, on a number of occasions, regarding her performance. Her preceptor has voiced concerns regarding accuracy of experiments, and timeliness of submitting grants & papers. Laila is very unhappy with this, and feels negatively targeted and singled out

Guiding Questions:
Are you ok with this feedback?
What would you do, in Laila’s position?
Does the purpose of the feedback matter?
What might be better ways to provide such feedback (ie setting, tone, etc)?

Case 2: “THAT’S not what I submitted!”

You are a graduate student who has worked closely with your supervisor for 3 years. You have worked very hard on a recent paper, and it is ready for submission. Your preceptor submits it, on behalf of the team. When you receive electronic notification of the submission, you note that the results section has been changed from what you submitted to your preceptor, and the conclusion is now more ‘dramatic’/ higher impact. Further, another colleague of your preceptor has been added as a ‘middle author’.

Guiding Questions:
Would you approach your preceptor?
What might the preceptor have done differently?
Are you familiar with the ICJME Authorship guidelines?


Case 3: “I was so freaked out by this case. I just want to talk to someone about it...”

It is a “quiet” mid-morning at work. Your clinical lab team decides to head down to the University Hospital ‘Starbucks’ to buy coffee. While standing in the usual 20-person deep line, one of the research assistants tells your team about the 19 year old all-star U of A varsity athlete who has just been diagnosed with aggressive, metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma, and needs to be approached for consent to participate in one of your on-going clinical trials.

Guiding Questions:
Why do you think the Research Assistant is talking about this?
How might you redirect the RA?

Case 4: “But if she can’t work, it is bad for her patients…”

You are a well-respected basic scientist within the Department of Radiology. You have a great rapport with many of the clinical radiologists, with whom you collaborate for research. Your girlfriend needs a C-spine MRI for dominant arm weakness that is impeding her ability to work as an emergency physician. You are very worried about her; there is a 2-3 month wait list.

Guiding Questions:
Do you call in a favour?
What are the implication and/or unintended consequences of ‘calling in a favour’?

Case 5: “Wow. That was so inappropriate. What do I say?”

It is the end of yet another LONG full day departmental retreat, where everyone is expected to attend and present their research. As is often the case, grad student Jaime left at lunch, even though the end time is 5pm. As the remaining attendees gather again for the afternoon session, you, your supervisor, and another research staff researcher enter the room together.
Your supervisor launches into a 5-minute rant, directed at you, about how inappropriate grad student Jaime’s behaviour is, and how unprofessional it is that he routinely arrives late and leaves early for most departmental events. He then turns to the other staff researcher with you and says “Isn’t that BS? I mean, seriously, we all have to show up.”

Guiding Questions:
What questions might you want to ask Jaime?
How might you express your discomfort to the preceptor? Would you express it, at all?

Case 6: “I have so much to do. if I don’t delegate, I’ll never get through it.”

An extremely busy scientist is in the middle of dreaded grant-writing season. She also has a number of complex experiments on-going, and a relatively new graduate student in her lab. While working furiously to meet the grant submission deadlines, she asks her grad student to perform a Western blot. The student has never seen or performed this procedure before. The supervisor explains the ‘gist of it’, and then tells the student to quickly go and get the experiment done, so that they can ‘get it off their list of things to do’, and move on to everything else that needs to be done, today.

Guiding Questions:
If you were the grad student, what might you say to your supervisor?
Do you think it is alright for the supervisor to ask this of her student?

Case 7: “It’s just dinner. What’s the big deal?”

You are a newly minted Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta, and have recently moved to Edmonton. At the end of a long day, and you are finally ready to leave. Your post-doc fellow has worked admirably alongside you, and is equally exhausted.
You want to acknowledge this individual’s work and you are hungry! You text them and invite them to dinner…your treat.

Guiding Questions:
Does it matter if you take them to the hospital cafeteria vs a fancy restaurant?
Does it matter if you are attracted to them?
What problems might this create, and in what contexts?

Case 8: “So I shared the preliminary results…no big deal…”

Lisa, a student in your research group, is working on a highly competitive project and she is not ready to share the results. Another postdoctoral fellow, Tina, from the same lab, has submitted an abstract on a different, but related project, to a major international meeting in your field. Tina is invited to give a talk at a symposium. You are attending the meeting and decide to go to your colleague’s talk. You are sitting in the audience when, in response to a question, she talks all about your fellow graduate student’s results that have not yet been submitted for publication.

Guiding Questions:
How should privileged information be treated?
Should you discuss this with the postdoctoral fellow or your supervisor?