1. Ulrich, Connie M. RN, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow (
  2. Grady, Christine RN, PhD, Bioethicist

Article Content

Novice researchers face a steep learning curve and many difficult ethical questions in the process of conducting independent research. New to the scientific world of interdisciplinary partnerships, competitive grants, intellectual property rights, authorship, and publishing, many nurse researchers are not prepared for the complex decision making that the research process entails and the ethical conflicts that may ensue. The doctoral dissertation, although a necessary academic component in the preparation of young scientists, is only the first step on the road to becoming a researcher.


Research is both an intellectual process and a business requiring an understanding and acumen that graduate programs may not impart (Donaldson, 2002). Scientists address complex issues in the course of planning and conducting research, and the decisions they must make are often not clear cut. Faced with such issues, inexperienced researchers may have difficulty deciding on the best course of action. As Aday asserts, "No decision is perfect" (1996, p. 111).


Research is a multifaceted endeavor; simply stated, research is not easy. The imprecision and complexity of the research enterprise make mentors critical to the development of novice researchers. Mentors can guide them through the thicket of the scientific environment, helping them develop their research interests and offering advice on how to address the many questions that arise and how to manage the inevitable pitfalls. The value of a good research mentor has not been sufficiently recognized.


Research decisions vary in kind and range, from selecting the appropriate study population for a specific intervention to determining the just compensation of subjects or addressing ethical questions about the practices of colleagues or other challenging subjects. New nurse researchers are in need of mentors who can provide guidance with such decisions, as well as help them establish networks in their chosen specialty field and critique their work.


A research mentor is a seasoned scientist, not necessarily within the same discipline, whom the novice investigator trusts. The two establish a formal relationship for the purpose of developing the young researcher's career. This relationship requires a significant commitment of time, as well as clear communication of responsibilities, on both sides.


The relationship between a research mentor and a novice scientist is not without controversy. Concerns about abuse of power and conflicting goals and expectations have been expressed (Eastwood, Derish, Leash, & Ordway, 1996). However, a good mentor recognizes the seriousness of training young scientists, acknowledges and credits their valued contributions, and prepares them for independent research.


Seasoned nurse researchers are in a pivotal position to offer guidance and constructive criticism to new researchers eager to make a contribution to the field. Such relationships are important not only for the development of research skills but also for future research productivity. If we want our best and most talented young researchers to succeed, we must provide them with mentors. In the end, the quality of research is a reflection of the guidance that we, as a community of scholars, offer to those embarking on careers in research.



Dr. Ulrich thanks Christine Grady, Ezekiel Emanuel, Marion Danis, and Karen Soeken, for their support and mentorship.


The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Institutes of Health, the Public Health Service, or the Department of Health and Human Services.




Aday, L. A. (1996). Designing and conducting health surveys: A comprehensive guide (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


2. Donaldson, S.K. (2002). Preparation of independent researchers. Journal of Professional Nursing, 18( 6), 308-309. [Context Link]


3. Eastwood, S., Derish, P., Leash, E., Ordway, S. (1996). Ethical issues in biomedical research: Perceptions and practices of postdoctoral research fellows responding to a survey. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2( 1), 89-114. [Context Link]