Compassion and empathy are necessary: An interview with Astrid Haakonstad

by Megan Frame, membership coordinator

This month, in honor of Member Appreciation Month, we will introduce you to a new member of the PRIM&R community each week. We’ll learn about their professional experiences, personal interests, and, of course, what keeps them committed to advancing ethical research. This week, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Astrid Haakonstad, regulatory compliance associate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you join the field?
Astrid Haakonstad (AH): I quite literally fell into it. I started my career as a technical writer but did not enjoy the work and did not feel fulfilled by it. I went back to school to become a licensed veterinary technician (LVT). While I was in school, I joined the University of Michigan’s IACUC office as a temporary employee. I didn’t know much about the field at all; I just wanted some type of job involving animals. I learned a lot about the field and really began to see the importance of the work. When a compliance position became available, I decided to stay.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
AH: Good communication skills (written and spoken) are essential, especially since many of the researchers I work with speak English as a second language. Attention to detail, ability to multitask, and problem-solving skills are important as well. However, I also want to add that compassion and empathy are necessary; not only because of the animal welfare aspect, but also because of the effect that research involving animals and noncompliance issues can have on the research community and public at large. I feel that it makes my work better if I can truly understand a situation from all points of view.

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?

AH: I’ve attended several IACUC Conferences, and gave a presentation on post-approval monitoring at the 2009 IACUC Conference in San Diego, CA . I’ve always enjoyed attending these meetings because the topics are interesting and relevant. Having the ability to speak with colleagues from other institutions is also helpful; you gain new ideas about how to approach issues or improve existing processes.

MF: What is your proudest achievement?
AH: My proudest work-related achievement would be going back to school in order to start a new and completely different career, despite the fact that I didn’t know if it would work out. Fortunately it did, but even if it hadn’t, I’m proud of myself for giving it a chance. I’m also proud of obtaining my LVT license and the Certified Professional IACUC Administrator (CPIA®) credential

MF: What is one thing you wish “the person on the street” knew about your work?
AH: I wish people had a sense of how hard we work to ensure animal welfare, and how much regulation is actually in place concerning the use of animals in research. Most of the people I talk with, who are not in the field, have heard the rhetoric of animal advocacy groups, but know little to nothing about what actually happens in the world of animal research, like how well-regulated it is and how much IACUCs, veterinary and husbandry teams, and researchers do to ensure that animals are treated in a humane manner and used judiciously in research. I would also like people to know how much the professionals in this field care about the animals. Most of us are animal lovers ourselves, yet we see the importance of the research and how it benefits the greater good.

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Astrid. We hope you continue to attend our conferences.

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