Guide to Ethics

Version 1. April 13, 2022

The first key component of ethics in physics is telling the truth, which includes documenting and sharing research results and avoiding fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. The second key component of ethics is treating people well, which includes establishing fair and respectful relationships with colleagues, subordinates, and students that avoid abuse of power and explicit and

(APS Guidelines on Ethics). A third key component of ethics in physics is considering and engaging with the impact of physics on society. This section addresses how to (1) support a culture of ethical behavior in your department, (2) support a culture of ethical teaching and learning and include ethics in your curriculum, (3) support a culture of ethical research in your department, and (4) consider creating formal departmental ethics guidelines. Many aspects of how to treat people in your program well are discussed further in the sections on Departmental Culture and Climate; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and How to Be an Effective Chair. For more on ethical teaching practices, see the section on Implementing Research-Based Instructional Practices. Attention to safety is also part of scientific ethics. For more on laboratory safety, see the section on Instructional Laboratories and Experimental Skills.


Ethics is a cornerstone of effective scientific practice and a productive and inclusive society. Ensuring that all physicists behave ethically maintains the integrity of physics as a discipline and supports public trust in physics and in science as a whole. Explicitly addressing ethics in your department can help ensure that your department is a welcoming place where everyone treats others appropriately, is supported in doing high-quality work, and acts as a responsible member of the physics community.

Effective Practices

  1. Support a culture of ethical behavior in your department

  2. Support a culture of ethical teaching and learning and include ethics in your curriculum

  3. Support a culture of ethical research in your department

  4. Consider creating formal departmental ethics guidelines

Programmatic Assessments

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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