Better Research, a Better Life, and a Better Future: An Interview with Haihong Zhang

By Megan Frame, membership manager

Welcome to another of our featured member interviews where we continue to introduce you to our members—individuals who work to advance ethical research on a daily basis. May is Member Appreciation Month at PRIM&R , and we will be featuring a new member interview every week! Please read on to learn about Haihong Zhang, PhD, coordinator of Peking University Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) in Beijing, China. 

Megan Frame (MF): What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
Haihong Zhang (HZ): As someone fairly new to the field of human subjects protections, I began my career from the academic study of research ethics instead of practice. While I am well trained in the American style of human subjects protections, when I first took my job as HRPP coordinator, I gradually realized there is a gap between theory and practice in the real world, as well as the contextual differences between how Western and Chinese cultures view human subjects protections. People in the US and China have the best intentions to pursue the highest ethical standards in this area. However, facing the increasingly changing research environment, it’s hard to keep ethics at the forefront. Thus, as a young scholar and “policy manager” in China, one particular challenge for me is to be more creative and innovative in finding ways to for better protect subjects and serve researchers and their research teams, based on up-to-date learning and critical thinking. The PRIM&R community is a good way for me to meet colleagues worldwide, to communicate, and to learn from their experiences and ideas, which will empower me in my career in the field of human subjects protections.

MF: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research?
HZ: Human subjects protections is a shared responsibility for everybody, simply because we are all human beings and it’s our nature to respect and to be respected.

MF: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field? Or, what is an example(s) of a lesson you had to learn the hard way?
HZ: We, especially in China, should know that the IRB is not the bureau, or a supervisor, but an honest confidant to investigators that can tell them that there’s still some space for improvement.

I first learned this idea when I took my internship at the Duke University Health System (DUHS) IRB in 2012. The team there works so well together—like magic!—and that experience has influenced the way I implement HRPP policies and IRB reviews.

MF: What changes in the research ethics and oversight fields most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?
HZ: To me, in the particular context of China, we are lacking a more detailed regulatory framework of human subjects protections legislation. It’s too general to guide the everyday practices in the real world. However, more and more people realize that we should consider the ethical perspective when conducting research involving human subjects. And many institutions, especially big hospitals in China, are making great efforts to enhance their ethical review quality and IRB capacity building.

MF: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
HZ: As a young professional HRPP staff member in China, it is my duty and commitment to always adhere to the high ethical standards of clinical research. We are doing good work for better research, a better life, and a better future.

MF: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career or do your job better?
HZ: DUHS IRB supported me to attend my first PRIM&R AER Conference in 2012 in San Diego. I met a lot of colleagues and joined some really fantastic sessions, such as speed mentoring and the young professional reception. The communication with a variety of IRB colleagues during that meeting helped me make the final decision to take my job as HRPP coordinator at Peking University. The PRIM&R community is a valuable resource for me to grow and to learn.

Thank you for being part of the membership community, Haihong! Our community wouldn’t be as strong without the support of members like you.

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