PPATH 522: Professional Development & Ethics in Plant Pathology (Fall 2017)

This course is designed to help graduate students acquire key professional skill and ethics through a combination of lectures, case study discussions on various ethics and professionalism issues, dialogs with invited guests about their professional experience, and mock exercises of paper and proposal reviews.


  • Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology


This course is designed to help graduate students acquire key professional skill and ethics through a combination of lectures, case study discussions on various ethics and professionalism issues, dialogs with invited guests about their professional experience, and mock exercises of paper and proposal reviews.

Course Logistics

Instructor: Seogchan Kang, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology
Office: 311 Buckhout Lab
Phone: (814) 863-3846

Class Location: 222 Buckhout Lab
Class Meeting Time: Wednesdays | 12:20-1:10 p.m.

Course Objectives

This 1 credit course aims to help the professional development of graduate students through a combination of lecture, discussion based on case studies, and dialogue with invited guests. Students completing this course will:

  1. Be clearly aware of dos and don’ts to maintain scholarship and research integrity and professional ethics;
  2. Complete the Graduate School requirement of discussion-based Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) education;
  3. Understand how to prepare and publish papers and how peer review works;
  4. Identify key professional skills they need to work on.

Course Topics

This course will focus on the following topics:

  • the process and ethics of publishing
  • dos and don’ts in grant proposal preparation and research presentation
  • ethical and social issues associated with practicing and applying science
  • types of scientific misconduct

Course Rationale

Graduate students need much more than disciplinary knowledge and technical skills to build an impactful career. Various other skills, such as effective writing and oral communication, development and management of collaboration, teaching and mentoring, are equally important. In addition, they should also be clearly aware of appropriate conduct required to maintain scholarship and research integrity and professional ethics. Which professional skills would be highly critical may vary depending on the career track each student will pursue. However, certain skills, such as good presentation (oral and written), effective and responsible management of time, resources and personnel, and the ability to work and communicate effectively with a diverse group of people, are critical in all professional positions. For example, because solving plant disease problems often requires integration and application of diverse knowledge and tools, interdisciplinary collaboration often becomes a necessity, not an option. However, even though working together sounds great, when people with complementary but disparate skills and backgrounds try to work together, they often run into a number of potential pitfalls and conflicts. How to effectively work together with others without creating uncomfortable or unprofessional situations requires much more than the need/incentive that has brought them together. The departmental colloquium focuses on helping improve students’ presentation skills because after their graduation, the price to pay for a bad presentation will be much more severe than getting a bad grade or criticism. Writing skills (grant proposals, research papers, white papers, reports, etc.), as well as the ability to articulate one’s ideas and results through seminars and meeting presentations, will heavily influence their professional growth and success. Learning about how to effectively manage time and resources and how to handle multiple responsibilities without causing too much stress also is critical. Although the need for acquiring and strengthening such professional skills and ethics continues to increase, unfortunately, most students often learn them in an ad hoc manner or through trial by fire. This course was designed to help them to understand and acquire several key professional skills.

Course Evaluation

Grading will be based on performance in the following activities:

Participation in class discussion 50
Attendance at two Office for Research Protections professional development and ethics seminars/workshops 25
Assignment (manuscript review) 25

Course Calendar

1 8/23 Introduction
2 8/30 Ethical and social challenges
3 9/6 Process and ethics of publishing I
4 9/13 Process and ethics of publishing II
5 9/20 Process and ethics of publishing III
6 9/27 Overview of funding mechanisms & grant review process
7 10/4 Dos and don’ts in grant proposal writing
8 10/11 Scientific misconduct case study I
9 10/18 Scientific misconduct case study II
10 10/25 Guest lecture I
11 11/1 Guest lecture II
12 11/8 Guest lecture III
13 11/15 Professional networking & disruptive innovations
14 11/22 Thanksgiving week
15 11/29 Open discussion I
16 12/6 Open discussion II

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