Exercise in Whistle-Blowing: The
Julia Coltrane Case:
Coltrane is a first-year graduate student who just began her graduate
work in behavioral ecology at Wrenwood State, a major research
university. She is interested in how experiential factors in young
mammals can affect later mating behaviors and mating preferences. She is
working in the laboratory of Dr. Adrianna Shepp, a researcher with a
long history of publication and grant support for her work in the
relationships between sexual selection and hormones in mammals.
is given a small study to do for her first-year project that is part of
the work Dr. Shepp is conducting with her senior graduate student,
William Rollins. Rollins directs the day-to-day work on the project, as
it is part of his Ph.D. dissertation. Dr. Shepp had offered Julia
several different projects on which the lab was working; Julia was most
interested in the work with Rollins, as it was closest to her research
interests. Rollins will defend his dissertation next year, and already
has four papers that have been accepted for publication in major
journals. He is considered to be a rising star in the field by all in
work Julia will conduct involves housing young green-backed voles in
groups of different densities and obtaining blood samples from the
animals each week to determine concentrations of certain hormones. When
the young voles reach sexual maturity, they are tested in a mate-choice
apparatus to determine their mating preferences. The mating behaviors
and preferences are video-recorded for later analyses.
housing and testing facilities for the voles are in a small lab building
off campus. The vole project is the only study taking place currently at
this lab building. Rollins is the one who has been maintaining and
testing the animals up to this point, and is happy to get some
assistance with data collection and animal care.
Rollins brings Julia to the lab building to show her the voles and the
testing facility, she is shocked. The cages are filthy and look like
they have not been cleaned in several weeks. The animals are housed in
much higher densities than she had read in the research protocol Dr.
Shepp had given her. When Rollins is off checking some video tapes, she
looks closely into several of the cages. In some of them she notices
dead voles, and in all of them she sees voles that are injured with bite
Rollins returns, Julia asks him what he does with the voles that die or
that are injured in the cages prior to testing. “Usually I just let
the others finish them off – it’s what they do in the wild, and
it’s a good extra source of protein for them,” he tells her. “I
know the cages look pretty dirty right now, but the inspection isn’t
for another month, so I’ll clean them all in a few weeks – we’ll
have our testing done by then anyway,” Rollins says. Just before
leaving the lab building, Julia is stunned to find a dead vole in the
mate-choice testing cage. “I must have forgotten that one during last
week’s test,” Rollins explains.
Rollins and Julia return to the university, she does not feel at ease.
She tells Dr. Shepp her concerns about the state of the animals in the
off-campus lab building. Dr. Shepp tells her, “Look, Rollins is a
solid researcher, and the animals are doing alright in the study. He
gets great data, so don’t worry about it. Just do what you are
supposed to do on this project, and once it’s finished, we can start
thinking about your dissertation project. I just got the news that it
will be funded, so you have support for three years without having to be
a teaching assistant!”
is torn after her discussion with Dr. Shepp, and wonders whether she
should contact the head of the Wrenwood State Animal Care and Use
Committee. She does not want to get Rollins or Dr. Shepp in trouble, but
is disturbed about the housing conditions of the voles.
Julia tell the head of the Animal Care and Use Committee about
or why not?