Training for Scholarship in Research Ethics University of Malawi College of Medicine Michigan State University
Project Plan The curriculum Research Ethics courses The research project Project Faculty and Personnel Evaluation Dissemination Project Timeline Institutional Capacity Grant Administration
Project Goals and Overview

We propose to develop a graduate-level training program in research ethics that will be a joint collaboration between The College of Medicine of the University of Malawi and Michigan State University. This program will train Malawian (and other African) professionals, coming from a variety of academic disciplines,  as  teachers and investigators in research ethics, thereby building the capacity for much-needed work in research ethics in Africa.

We have two primary goals. The first is development of an indigenous community of scholars in Malawi and elsewhere in the region who will become active contributors to the literature of international research ethics, speaking to issues which are of particular relevance for Africa.  Second is development of an indigenous curriculum relevant to research ethics which can attract talented African students to an academic career in bioethics. As we pursue these primary goals, we will also aim to encourage a mutually beneficial dialogue on bioethics between US and African scholars that can become the basis of future international research and teaching collaborations. 

There is an increasing amount of clinical research in Africa, creating a great need for African-centered scholarship in research ethics.  However, there is little scholarly capacity in African to do this, and to date, few efforts have been made by African scholars to carry out specifically African inquiries.  Further, outside of South Africa there is at present in Africa a lack of opportunity for advanced training in research ethics, except for short courses in ethical theory or training modules for Institutional Review Board (IRB) members.  While such courses are useful, what is needed by both Africa and the general bioethics community is academic research in African research ethics B both empirical investigations and normative scholarship B that is of a high quality, suitable for publication, and a sound basis for further research.

It is important that systematic ethical reflection and empirical research be done in the African context B to gather data about relevant cultural matters, and also so that ethical reflection can be focused on the real problems on the ground, in  the cultural context in Africa.  Developing this knowledge is important for researchers in Africa, but also for bioethicists in other parts of the world.

Thus, the proposed project in Malawi aims to help develop capacity in research ethics scholarship. This capacity- building will take two forms. First, we will assist the development of sustainable curricula in research ethics for use in African universities. It is only through exposure to courses and faculty mentors that upcoming generations of African university students are likely to consider an academic career in research ethics for themselves. Second, we will encourage the pursuit of original scholarship among African scholars who will study research ethics in the African context, and will publish their work in both African and international journals. In this way, an African scholarly community in research ethics can begin to be built.

In outline, our proposal is as follows. We will recruit trainees who already occupy  responsible university or institutional positions that provide opportunities both for teaching new advanced-level courses, and for conducting research and scholarship. Trainees will  hold an advanced degree in a relevant discipline, and show promise of scholarly or research potential. Trainees will come to Michigan State University to take advanced-level courses specific to their core discipline and their planned area of research, and will be matched with an MSU mentor to advise them on development of their research project. Trainees will then return to Malawi, where further coursework will focus on issues specific to research ethics. These courses will be developed and taught by Malawi-based scholars, including a visiting professor who will provide the additional faculty capacity needed at the University of Malawi. Trainees will implement their research projects in Malawi, advised there by a Malawi-based scholar, and also (electronically) by their MSU mentor.  In consultation with their mentors, trainees will also develop plans for a course related to issues in research ethics that can be offered through the trainee’s home institution upon their return. Toward the end of the trainee’s research project, the MSU mentor will travel to Malawi to join the Malawi-based mentor for 10 days. Together, they will work intensively with the trainee to develop a final research report that will be suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. They will also help the trainee finalize the planned course syllabus. Trainees will receive a certificate of completion once all course work is completed, their research report has been accepted for publication, and they have successfully taught their course.

Because our goals require intensive and individualized mentoring by experienced faculty, we will recruit only four trainees over the course of this project.