Volume 9 Issue 2 (2013): Research Assistantships
Main Articles

The Ethical Treatment of Research Assistants: Are We Forsaking Safety for Science?

Karen Z. Naufel
Georgia Southern University
Denise R. Beike
University of Arkansas
Published November 1, 2013
  • research training,
  • research policy,
  • research assistantships,
  • research supervision,
  • research ethics,
  • experimenter rights,
  • research assistant's bill of rights
  • ...More


Science inevitably involves ethical discussions about how research should be implemented. However such discussions often neglect the potential unethical treatment of a third party: the research assistant. Extensive anecdotal evidence suggests that research assistants can experience unique physical, psychological, and social risks when implementing their typical responsibilities. Moreover, these research assistants, who perhaps engage in research experience to bolster their curricula vitae, may feel coerced to continue to work in unsafe environments out of fear of losing rapport with the research supervisor or letters of recommendation for their future endeavors. In the present article, we address two important issues regarding the ethical treatment of research assistants. First, we present evidence suggesting that research assistants may experience substantive risk when implementing their assigned responsibilities. Second, we propose a document, the "Research Assistant's Bill of Rights," as a possible ethics code for people supervising research assistants. This document is independent from typical institutional review board processes, and it has the potential to maximize benefits to research supervisors and research assistants.