Education for Health

: 2020  |  Volume : 33  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 79--80

Protecting medical students against workplace research bullying: A graduate's experience and standpoint

Ahmed Abu-Zaid 
 College of Graduate Health Sciences, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee, United States

Correspondence Address:
Ahmed Abu-Zaid
College of Graduate Health Sciences, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee
United States

How to cite this article:
Abu-Zaid A. Protecting medical students against workplace research bullying: A graduate's experience and standpoint.Educ Health 2020;33:79-80

How to cite this URL:
Abu-Zaid A. Protecting medical students against workplace research bullying: A graduate's experience and standpoint. Educ Health [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 8 ];33:79-80
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Full Text

Dear Editor,

I enrolled in a medical school to pursue a career as a physician. However, during the 3rd year of medical school, this career route changed when I undertook five self-led extracurricular research activities and communicated their findings in indexed journals. The inquiry-driven learning, the notion of exploring the unknown, and the opportunity to uncover new knowledge – as seen in research – have always been a source of delight and rewarding challenge. Since then, I have been strongly interested in a prospective research-focused academic medicine career. Research scholarship, gauged by the excellence of scientific publications, is instrumental to a future academic medicine career.[1] To that end, I sought my first research partnership with a “senior” faculty (the mentor) as a wise footstep to enhance the quality and accelerate the quantity of my pool of scholarly publications.

Regrettably, my first research partnership harbored a plethora of an unethical exercise of a severe form of research bullying, i.e., authorship abuse and publication parasitism.[2] To elaborate, the mentor employed unfairly his academic seniority to coerce the inclusion of his peers as coauthors despite their “zero” intellectual contribution, i.e., gift authorship. In one instance, the mentor omitted my name and took exclusive credit for an editorial manuscript contributed primarily by me, i.e., denial of authorship. Not to mention the countless occurrences that I experienced: conflict, macroaggression, and derogatory undermining of my research contributions. My junior research status was a vulnerable victim to his seniority standing; I was defenseless and could not voice myself. This matter was further compounded by the anxiety of adulterating the medical school’s standing, the fear from an intensified backlash revenge, and importantly the lack of an institutional-based office to properly handle such research bullying matters. Disappointingly, my passion for an academic medicine career shrank as I failed to enrich my interest with fruitful research experiences and my résumé with rewarding indexed publications. Besides, my perception of research partnership with senior faculty changed negatively.

The bottom line, medical students continuously admire engagement in research endeavors with faculty of “seniority.” However, not much is known about authorship abuse in such student–faculty research collaborations. The body of existing literature is scarce on this topic – probably due to neglect – and this is an interesting arena for research exploration. Taking into account their naïve background, research-passionate medical students are very vulnerable to research bullying, and unpleasant research experiences can negatively impact students’ pursuits of future research, generally, and research-focused careers, specifically.[3],[4]

Medical schools should offer rigorous educational programs to students and faculty on the fundamentals of research integrity, healthy research partnership, and successful mentor–mentee relationship. Additionally, medical schools should establish vigorous and easy-to-access institutional protocols for reporting such research-related ethical misconduct.[5] Whistleblowers (student victims of authorship abuse) should be encouraged to disclose such practices and get protected, while perpetrators (faculty authorship bullies) should be penalized. It is time for research bullying, inclusive of all its overt and covert flavors, to be regarded as a research misconduct that warrants a serious disciplinary action.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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2Kwok LS. The white bull effect: Abusive coauthorship and publication parasitism. J Med Ethics 2005;31:554-6.
3Alamri Y, Al-Busaidi IS. Attitudes towards bullying may affect students’ but not supervisors’ future research involvement. Postgrad Med J 2019;95:347.
4Mina S, Mostafa S, Albarqawi HT, Alnajjar A, Obeidat AS, Alkattan W, et al. Perceived influential factors toward participation in undergraduate research activities among medical students at Alfaisal University-College of Medicine: A Saudi Arabian perspective. Med Teach 2016;38 Suppl 1:S31-6.
5Mahmoudi M. The need for a global committee on academic behaviour ethics. Lancet 2019;394:1410.