An Editor’s Job is … sometimes a success!

I am very proud of a manuscript that was released digitally by Taylor and Francis publishers this week, authored by Dr. Mathana Amaris Fiona Sivaraman. I served as the Editor for this manuscript, as it is part of a set that will be published in hard copy in May in The Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE). The set comprises a special focus issue on ethics in engineering education and practice. It’s an output of the global Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN.co) that I Chair.

The title of Fiona’s paper is “A 4-tier rubric for evaluating engineering students’ ethical decision-making (EDM) skills: EDM model as a tool for analysing and assessing ethical reasoning” and it can be donwloaded from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/22054952.2021.1909811. (If you need access and your library doesn’t have it, please let me or the author know and we may be able to get you a copy for free.)

Here’s the official abstract for Fiona’s paper:

“Ethical decision-making (EDM) is an important element in the engineering profession. This paper explores the use of an ethical decision-making model (EDMM) as a tool for analysing and assessing the ethical reasoning skills of student engineers and their ability to apply the rationale of EDM process for ethical vignettes. The tool, distilled from several existing EDMMs, was tested against interview data collected from 12 graduating students at one private university in Malaysia. The students were asked to examine two ethical vignettes of varying scenarios and difficulty levels. This was followed by a semi-structured, face-to-face interview (corresponding to the first four steps of EDMM) to gauge their ethical reasoning behind their decision for each vignette. Their verbal responses were analysed and categorised into a four-tier rubric developed in accordance with the four steps of EDMM. Findings revealed that generally, students were able to identify the underlying issue (step 1) and the affected parties and the consequences (step 2), but they did not give much thought to potential course of action (step 3) or to testing available options (step 4). Levels of development of ethical reasoning provided by students varied between the first and second vignette. Findings suggest that the EDMM holds promise as a way to better understand and diagnose students’ readiness to face ethical challenges in their profession.”

Sivaraman, 2021

I worked really, really hard to support Fiona as she’s an early career scholar — a “Baby Doc” like Diana — and fairly new to publishing in academic journals.

I was delighted to receive this thank you note over the weekend, from Fiona.

She said I was welcome to publish it in a blog, so here you go! It’s rare to have an author who had to work so very hard thank me for the effort. Dr. Robin Fowler was another person who sent thanks, and I cherish both their comments. The editorial Fiona linked below is really quite interesting to read as well!

Dear Professor Shannon Chance,

I want to take this opportunity to thank you personally for all that you have done for me in the past 1 year (though I am a complete stranger to you).

In my little experience of publishing a few indexed journal articles since 2014, I have come across very few editors who were helpful, and more so many unpleasant experiences with editors who hold on to the manuscript for over a year without any feedback or status update leaving you in agony waiting for a response. The response matters a lot to junior researchers like me, who need to show publication input to sustain in academia.

Of all the editors I have worked with so far within my limited correspondences with them as an author, I remember the late Emeritus Professor Ray Spier (Editor of Science and Engineering Ethics Journal) left a lasting impact on me.  Prof Ray personally found time not only to reply to newcomers like me (I was still doing my PhD then), but also provided suggestions for the final revision of my manuscripts.

And, you are phenomenal. I have never come across an Editor who works closely with the author, who replies to the author’s emails and who cares so much for the final output.  Even during my PhD, I did not have the comfort of experiencing such care and supervision, and yet again I had to work on my own without a Principal Investigator during my postdoctoral fellowship. That is why I am really touched by your care and mentoring.  This paper would not have been possible without your guidance and personal attention.  Thank you so much.

Occasionally, I contribute write-ups to the local dailies in Malaysia.  Exasperated with the system, as a junior researcher, I have written about the culture of bullying and practice of ‘free riders’ in academia.  https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/05/04/publishing-folly-in-academia

The other day, I was going through your blog. I wonder how you find time to multi-task on so many things, and also find time to reply to ‘small fry’ like me. You are doing such amazing, wonderful stuff as a global leader in Engineering Education Research, STEM education, Ethics and Sustainability, Gender Inclusion and Diversity etc.

Once I land into my new job this year (I pray it will be sooner), then perhaps I can find ways to connect with you in terms of future work. 

I have taken note of your contact details undersigned in your email.  Do allow me to WhatsApp you on special festive occasions (i.e. Christmas).

Till then, thank you and take care.  Virtual Hug 😁

Regards,

Fiona

(Mathana Amaris Fiona)

Publons:  https://publons.com/researcher/1798746/mathana-amaris-fiona-sivaraman/


ORCID:  http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3623-9895

Google Scholar Citation: Mathana Amaris Fiona Sivaraman

Ethics in Engineering: Calling for a Revolution

The platform Engineering Matters aired Podcast #59 on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” on June 25, 2020.

Bernadette Balentine is the host of Engineering Matters, and in podcast 59, she featured guests from Mott MacDonald, Canada’s Corporation of the Seven Wardens, Engineers Without Borders UK, the University of Leeds, the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, and me, a Visiting Professor at UCL. You can find it at this link.

The podcast tells a fascinating story about a catastrophic bridge failure that happened in Canada, explaining how the overall engineering profession there responded by developing and adopting a strict code of ethics.

The overall podcast is 37 minutes, and I’m featured only briefly (around minute 28.5). In this post, I’ll provide a little more detail on the work I’ve been doing that led me to be included.

As you probably know, I was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at UCL for two years, and I still serve as a Visiting Professor there at UCL. I have a keen interest in the built environment and I’m also a registered architect in the States with LEED-AP credentials. My research specialty involves how people learn engineering and architecture.

During the Fellowship, Engineers without Borders UK came to me asking for help with research idea. As a result, my team and I conducted a small-scale qualitative study where we interviewed nine civil/structural engineers practicing in London about their perceptions of ethics and, specifically, of global responsibility—what it means and how they enact global responsibility in their day-to-day work. I reported this research while speaking with Bernadette for the podcast.

Bernadette asked what factors we had identified that prevent engineers from acting on ethical beliefs. Here’s some of what I said:

Even when early career engineers see opportunities to do something in a better, more ethical or responsible way, they often have trouble getting the idea accepted. Cost and time constraints limit their choices. Small and private projects nearly always prioritize cost and over environmental or social sustainability. 

Early-career engineers can influence material selection and thus carbon footprint to some degree, but many other decision are out of their scope of work. Crucial decisions were made long before they got involved. They select materials, run calculations, and make more detailed decisions, but they are often involved in a small portion of any given building or infrastructure project. Even when they see an opportunity to do better on a private project, their client usually only accepts it is the idea if it also saves money or time. 

That said, larger public projects provide more opportunity to protect the public good—and they hear about public discussions. But it’s other professionals, such as architects and planners, who often drive those discussions. On the other hand, the senior managing engineer we interviewed was quite able to affect things on a large scale; he had quite a lot of sway in decision-making and frequent opportunities to protect public Health and Safety. He took pride in doing so, and he also reached out to help mentor others to develop such skills. 

Early-career engineers told us they lack reliable tools for calculating environmental and social impacts of various options. Quite surprisingly, most don’t recall having discussions in university about sustainability. While they say ethics was probably covered in their professional practice classes, none of this was covered in a way that was “sticky” enough for them to recall it. Most learned about this after university, through CPD courses, their own research, and company induction programs on Health & Safety and anti-corruption with an implied focus on anti-bribery. 

Overall, the early career engineers in our study expressed: 

  • A lack of tools for demonstrating benefits of environmental or social action
  • Some degree of shortfall in training/preparation
  • Feelings of disempowerment due to decisions being made further up the business or by clients who didn’t value sustainability

One of the most important findings of our study was that the engineers felt empowered to act on job-site Health and Safety more than other areas. Job-site Health and Safety was the one thing, they said, that consistently trumps cost. They were also clear on company rules for reporting gifts.

This led me to wonder: Might we use the levers that facilitated sweeping change across job-site H&S and anti-bribery to facilitate quick change in other areas related to ethics—specifically environmental and social aspects of sustainability and justice? 

A helpful example was relayed by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Korean Airlines went from having one of the world’s worst flight safety records to one of the best, and they did this by changing their own culture (with help of consultants) to allow individuals to raise concerns and challenge authority without personal retribution, without fear of reprimand.

I believe engineers need more of this type of empowerment and protection. The narrative Bernadette Ballantyne has woven on “Empowering Ethical Engineering” illustrates how Civil Engineering in Canada did precisely this.

It’s well worth a listen, regardless of whether or not you “engineer” things!

The Iron Ring worn by Canadian engineers after taking their oath to protect Health and Safety of all. Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Ring and on the Engineering Matter podcast.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more details of our study, as we prepare various findings for publication in research journals. Many thanks to my research collaborators Inês Direito, Rob Lawlor, and John Mitchell, and the Advisory Board appointed by EWB-UK to help guide our work. Financial support came from the European Commission via my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship and a grant to EWB-UK from the Royal Academy of Engineers UK.