Case Studies for Ethics Education in Chemistry

These case studies are designed to be used as part of ethics education in chemistry.

The case studies were written for use in workshops or classrooms where each scenario can be read by the participants in 2-5 minutes. Each scenario is followed by a presentation of several choices designed to generate group discussion.

The 13 case studies are organized into four categories:

  1. Interpersonal Dynamics
  2. Collecting and Managing Data
  3. Safety and Comportment
  4. Cheating, Dishonesty, and Plagiarism

The workshop leader can use various item choices to encourage the participants to voice their insights and concerns about the case, or the choices can be compressed into 3-5 items of more complex choices, upon which the group can vote (by use of a clicker system or some other method of expressing preference). Each set of options for voting is presented in two (or more) stages. Each stage can be used either with or without clickers.

Download a PDF of all 13 case studies or preview a sample case study below.

Case Study - Category 1: Interpersonal Dynamics

Case of a Day Early and Grade Short


Gary is a student in a small college, who is enrolled in a chemistry lab course taught by Yolanda. Yolanda is a female graduate instructor in her early twenties who has established a genuine camaraderie with all the students, especially Gary. When final grades arrive, Gary finds he has earned a “B” rather than the “A” he was expecting. He files a complaint requesting a grade change.

Gary claims that during the final week of class, Yolanda told him he had earned an “A” in the course. Gary also claims that Yolanda invited him on a date, but he declined. In addition, Gary has documentation that he feels justifies a higher grade, along with the verbal commitment. The department chair checks with Yolanda and she seems to be able to justify the grades she assigned and is rather vague on whether she asked Gary out on a date or just a friendly get-together open to other students.

Stage 1:

What action do you think WAS taken by the Supervisor?

A. The Supervisor changed Gary’s grade to an “A” and Yolanda wasn’t asked to teach again.

B. Since Yolanda had documented the grade calculations, her assigned grade was honored.

C. Gary was required to complete some extra lab work with a different instructor to earn an “A” and Yolanda was required to attend classes on sexual harassment before teaching again.

Stage 2:

Which of the following actions do you think SHOULD have been taken?

A. The Chair should change Gary’s grade to an “A”.

B. Yolanda should not be asked to teach again.

C. Since Yolanda had documentation of grade calculations, her assigned grade should be honored.

D. Yolanda should be required to review proper protocol for socializing with students.

E. All graduate instructors should be required to attend sexual harassment training.

F. Gary should be required to complete some extra lab work with another instructor to earn an “A”.

G. Gary's grade should remain, but he should have the option of retaking the course with another instructor, in order to have his grade replaced.

H. The supervisor of part-time instructors should be directed to micro-manage all courses.