My path has been anything but traditional: I came to the world of academia from a long career as a circus and stunt performer and world-record competitive formation skydiver. As a member of the esoteric, misunderstood communities of professional aerial acrobats, I’ve always felt personally connected to and passionate about fieldwork and research ethics. I love my field, folklore studies, because we stand “shoulder to shoulder” with our research subjects, placing specific emphasis on bringing out their voices in respectful and authentic ways and being careful not to simply advance our own theories or preconceived notions.
Since 2005 I’ve taught these principles as a professor at Bowling Green State University, serving on our Human Subjects Review Board since my first week on campus. My colleagues usually look baffled when I tell them that my IRB work is the most important and rewarding part of my job at BGSU. I care deeply about strengthening the bridge between IRB officials (whether board members or federal offices) and researchers in the field. I feel that we should be, and often are, working toward the same goal: protecting and respecting our subjects.
In 2006 I attended PRIM&R’s Advancing Ethical Research (AER) conference for the first time. Internet research had become far more prevalent than it was in 1998 when, as a graduate student, I was the first to present (and successfully receive approval for) a protocol involving online behavior and culture to Harvard University’s Medical School IRB. Yet at AER16 there was scant attention to online research ethics, nor discussion of how the federal guidelines might be applied. I made enriching connections at the conference and reached out to propose new sessions; in the following years, I was privileged to join the PRIM&R faculty myself, leading workshops and panels on Internet research. My chapter in Folk Culture in the Digital Age (2012), “Face-to-Face with the Digital Folk: The Ethics of Fieldwork on Facebook,” is still the most cited and the only comprehensive published discussion of ethics in social media fieldwork within the discipline of folklore studies.
I love thinking and writing about research ethics because every single situation is unique and unpredictable; as we are constantly reminded by the PRIM&R faculty, “The answer is: it depends.” Respect for human subjects continually requires awareness and sensitivity to others’ points of view, their vulnerabilities, and their individual and social/cultural contexts.
This month, I am starting a new position at BGSU, as the new Research Compliance Officer of our university. It is a thrilling challenge for me to take on this new level of responsibility and commitment, and it makes this particular PRIM&R meeting exceptionally crucial for me. As I stand on the edge of the transition from professor/board member to official compliance officer, I’m seeking mentors and resources that can help me in my highest dive ever, into a deeper understanding of the world of human subjects research protection. I’m honored to share my reflections on this journey through the PRIM&R Blog Squad!
Montana Miller, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she has served on the Institutional Review Board since 2005. This fall, she is taking on a new position, serving as BGSU’s Research Compliance Officer. She specializes in youth culture and Internet culture and teaches courses in ethnographic research methods and ethics. She is the author of “Face to Face with the Digital Folk: The Ethics of Fieldwork on Facebook,” the concluding chapter of Trevor Blank’s 2012 volume Folk Culture in the Digital Age: The Emergent Dynamics of Human Interaction. In past years, Montana has given lectures and seminars on Internet research ethics at PRIM&R’s annual Advancing Ethical Research conferences and before the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections in Washington, DC. Miller is also a world-record holding professional skydiver and the captain/founder of the sport’s only all-female 8-way skydiving team, and her current research explores beliefs and attitudes surrounding death in that community. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a Masters and PhD from UCLA, all in Folklore and Mythology.
Members of PRIM&R’s Blog Squad and other guest contributors are valued members of our community willing to share their insights. The views expressed in their posts do not necessarily reflect those of PRIM&R or its employees.
PRIM&R’s 2018 Advancing Ethical Research Conference takes place November 14-17 in San Diego, CA. Explore the agenda and register on our website.