Stressed and Pressed Atmosphere amongst Scientists

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Reports regarding cheating and dishonesty at Lund University have increased sharply over the past years. Representatives for the University point out that this could be due to increased discussions about research ethics, stress and a fierce competition in the academy.

By: Nina Morby
Translation by: Viktor Jönsson

Since 2010, the Research Misconduct Review Board at Lund University has investigated 25 cases whereof over half of these are from the last two years.

“The increase could be because of the discussions about research ethics having increased, a possible result of the Macchiarini incident”, says Magnus Gudmundsson, secretary of the Research Misconduct Review Board.

Increase in cheating

A report also came earlier this year regarding the University’s preventative work against dishonesty, which has played a part. So far, only three charges have led to convictions, and of these two were regarding plagiarism. Even the Disciplinary Committee, which amongst other things deals with postgraduates who cheat in their education, has noticed an increase in the number of reports for a long period of time.

“We started keeping statistics in 1997, and at that time the number of reports was about 20. During 2016, charges towards 98 students were handled by Lund University and the Disciplinary Committee, whereof about 70 percent were charged for some form of disciplinary offence. This increase could likely be due to better means of revealing cheating, like Urkund”, says Hanna Stam, lawyer at Lund University.

A stressed and pressed environment

According to Magnus Gudmundsson, plagiarism could be seen as a shortcut in a stressed and pressed research environment.

“Many postgraduates and researchers are stressed. They see their subject matter as their call and work both weekends, nights, and during vacations in order to be publicised, thus getting more money. In one conviction, the convicted was reported to have been under “a very high workload” and could be working between 50-60 hours in a week.”

The environment in the academy is, from time to time, very tough and is pervaded with rivalry.

“The atmosphere amongst researchers is really tough. Most is about prestige, money, and academic positions, so there are a lot of conflicts, especially when it comes to who does and who doesn’t get grants”, he adds.

Do not put the cheaters in the position of the victim

Anders Ahlberg, senior lecturer at the Academic Development Unit at the Faculty of Engineering (LTH). He has noticed a high level of stress amongst the postgraduates at LTH. He points at a badly arranged workflow, very high expectations and demands from home for foreign students, and the occasional tough work environment as the contributing factors to increased stress, and in turn, increased cheating. However, Anders Ahlberg emphasises that you should not or may not make any allowances for postgraduates, or other employees at the University, who cheat.

“They should not be allowed a victim’s position; the one who has cheated or been negligent are themselves, the perpetrator. Stress could be a contributing factor, but most who experience stress don’t cheat”, says Anders Ahlberg.

Alarming number on sick leave

Richard Croneberg, chairman of Lund Doctoral Student Union (LDK), sees a high level of stress amongst postgraduates even today.

“We, as a Union, take this question very seriously, main reason being, among others, the alarming number on sick leave earlier observed in the Faculty of Social Sciences. By actively following up on the ongoing work evaluations at the faculties, we hope that together with the University make sure that every postgraduate student gets a better psychosocial work environment. A lot hangs on the relationship between the student and the mentor, where a good contact and support is critical. In cases where there are conflicts between the student and the mentor, the doctoral ombudsman fills the important role of mediating and makes sure that the institution follows up with appropriate measures, which could include everything from individual talks to an actual change of mentor”, says Richard Croneberg.

Researchers end up in a catch 22

Even Richard Croneberg thinks that there is a connection between the environment amongst postgraduates, stress, and the increase in reported cases of cheating and dishonesty.

“I’d like to argue that there’s a risk that a great deal of workload will unavoidably lead to stress, for postgraduate students and seniors alike. In the latter case, there’s a catch 22: in order to get time to do research, you have to spend time on applying for it. This is because a majority of the allocated research grants reach the scientists mainly through external funding. Hence, this is applied for in competition with others”, says Richard Croneberg.