A Part of Something Bigger: An Interview with Erika Basile

by Megan Frame, Membership Coordinator 

Welcome to another installment of our featured member interviews where we introduce you to our members—individuals who work to advance ethical research on a daily basis. Please read on to learn more about their professional experiences, how membership helps connect them to a larger community, and what goes on behind-the-scenes in their lives!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Basile, director of research ethics at the Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. 

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you join the field? 
Erika Basile (EB): I knew as a teenager that I wanted to get into research. My introduction to the field took place when I was completing my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia. I worked in multiple sclerosis research and my boss, who I believe helped pave the way for where I am today, gave me the opportunity to run my own research project. I was so excited to get into the lab and figure out how to answer my research question. In the end, I was able to publish my results in a well-respected journal and present my findings at an international conference. I still look up the papers I wrote once in a while to see who has used them to help answer their own research questions. It was very fulfilling for me. It is also gratifying to know that what I was doing was a part of something bigger and that my work might help bring us one step closer to curing a disease or understanding why people react differently to the same medication.

After my time in multiple sclerosis research I moved on to other disciplines, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, continuing to do bench work.  Over time, I became more frustrated with bench work because although it was exciting to conduct my own experiments, the process was slow and I was becoming impatient and losing my drive. I knew I needed a change but I still wanted to stay in research. When an ethics coordinator position became available, I realized that if I took the position, I would still have the opportunity to be involved in research, but on the administrative side. In my role as an ethics coordinator, I enjoyed knowing that I was still playing a part in the progress of research and in the protection of subjects. I believe that conducting research is important in order to make advances in human health and welfare. Having rules and regulations that promote properly designed and controlled studies are essential for avoiding fabrication, falsification, or misrepresentation of research data. They also promote trust among the research community and public, which in turn allows research to continue to advance and progress.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
EB: Multi-tasking. It is vital to be organized, have time management skills, and be able to handle stress well. In my current position, as director of research ethics, I am responsible for managing staff and participating in policy development and change. This adds to my already busy schedule because I also maintain a research review portfolio. This can be challenging, so I have to practice being patient and make time to listen to my colleagues and help them progress in their own careers. It is also very important to work with the research community to help facilitate what they are trying to do and not hinder it.

MF: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have had a significant impact on your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you?
EB: I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference in Boston. I learned about ethical challenges being face both here and abroad. It was great to see the international community come together to help solve some of the dilemmas with which we are faced. The most rewarding part of the conference was having the privilege of listening to the keynote address by Atul Gawande, MD, MPH. It was captivating. He is probably the most mesmerizing and eloquent speaker I have come across. His speech made me realize the important roles that doctors, nurses, researchers, and administrators play, and it helped revitalize the way I think about my own role.

MF: What is your proudest achievement?
EB: My proudest career achievement is my promotion to director of research ethics. I worked very hard for this job. I am excited to be involved in policymaking and the promotion of research. I am also pleased to be able to help protect people who may not fully understand what they are agreeing to when they are asked to be a subject in research. They need to be able to trust our office is doing what we can to protect them.

MF: Is there anyone, living or dead, who has inspired you in your career and/or in life?
EB: In my personal life, my biggest influence is my mom. I could write a book about her, but instead I will just say that she helped me be the person I am today. When I was about 14 or 15 years old and I read the book Virus Hunter by C.J. Peters, and it inspired my career. I was certain I was going to grow up to be a doctor who worked with deadly pathogens and traveled the world.

Another person that has really inspired me is Joel Oger, MD. I met Dr. Oger during my first year as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia. He gave me the opportunity to really learn what it is to be a researcher. I was only 21 at the time and he taught me the hard lesson of figuring it out on my own. I knew that when I had a meeting with him I better come prepared. I needed to know what I was doing and why I was doing it. Although university gave me the building blocks for knowledge, Dr. Oger taught me how to apply it and to be confident.

There are also others along the way who I believe that I owe a big thank you to, and that includes people like Dr. Gawande, for his enthusiasm and his inspiration. I also want to acknowledge my current boss. He has taken the time to listen and encourage all of his employees to be confident and strive for their goals. He provides sincere and constructive feedback, he always knows what is going on with his coworkers, and he takes the time to talk to you and provide advice. It is really nice to come to work and feel appreciated, and at the same time have a person who will be honest with you, not only acknowledging your strengths, but also helping you improve your weaknesses.

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Erika. We are glad to hear you enjoyed your experience at the 2013 AER Conference, and hope to see you at the 2014 AER Conference where John T. Wilbanks, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, and Susan E. Lederer, PhD, will be giving keynote talks

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit our website today.