Case Study: Weighing interests

ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 5. Conflicts of Interest

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Early in his undergraduate education, Dr. Sam M. decided to dedicate his studies to finding a cure for a psychological disorder that seemed to run in his family. As a biology major, he pursued independent research projects and worked long hours as a lab assistant. He then enrolled in a PhD program in psychopharmacology and is now completing a 3-year postdoc in the neurosciences.
During his postdoc he worked on a promising compound he first discovered during his graduate years. His work has gone well and he feels the time is right to explore clinical applications. After more than a decade of living on student and postdoc wages, he is also ready for a better paying job.
As Sam weighs the options of an academic versus an industry job, he begins to wonder about who owns or will own the useful applications of his work, if and when there are any. Will it be owned by:
  • his graduate institution, where he first worked on the promising compound?
  • his postdoc institution, where he refined his ideas?
  • his future academic or industry employer?
  • himself, based on his hard work and innovative ideas?
  • society, which funded parts of his education and most of his research?

Who has a legitimate interest in Sam’s work and when do his own personal financial interests create conflict of interest?

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