Diplomacy is a Must: An Interview with Steven O’Geary

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 Steven “Steve” O’Geary, assistant vice president for research compliance at Oklahoma State University-Stillwater in Stillwater, OK. 

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you join the field?
Steve O’Geary (SO): I joined the field in January 2002 when my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma (OU), began restructuring its research compliance programs. I left a tenure-track faculty position to return to OU to serve as the director of the Office of Human Research Participant Protection. That was the beginning of an amazing career that led me to the University of California-Berkeley and now Oklahoma State University. Although I miss the challenges of engaging students in active learning, I have never regretted my decision to directly support the mission of IRBs. After 14 years, I remain earnest and diligent in my efforts to safeguard the rights and welfare of human subjects.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
SO: Diplomacy is a must. A person needs to possess solid interpersonal skills, especially the ability to communicate effectively with people from diverse backgrounds. You need a robust understanding of all pertinent regulations, and you also need to be patient, detail oriented, organized, and even-tempered. Enthusiasm, passion, and a sense of humor help, too.

MF: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
SO: Along with books like Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison, which many of us read when joining the field, there are several books that have influenced me:

Some may seem far afield at least at first glance, but each one helped me to better appreciate the principles of the Belmont Report.

MF: Have any of the PRIM&R talks you’ve attended had a significant impact on your approach to your work? 
SO: Former Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) director Greg Koski, MD, PhD, spoke at PRIM&R’s 2005 Human Research Protection Program Conference, one of the first PRIM&R conferences I attended. This was shortly after he had stepped down as director and returned to a faculty position at Harvard Medical School. During his presentation, he spoke about the challenges of being the first director of the newly created OHRP. He spoke very eloquently about the moral obligations that accompany research involving humans and about why IRBs matter. He also discussed the sad circumstances surrounding the death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first subject publicly identified as having died as a result of his participation in a gene therapy trial. Dr. Koski struck a chord with me. He helped me realize, even more so than I had previously, the significance of the professional decisions I make every day. I was left with the realization that I was a part of something far greater than myself.

MF: What advice have you found most helpful in your career?
SO: To surround myself with people who drive me forward rather than those who would hold me back. I’ve done this at Oklahoma State, where I have the privilege of working with outstanding professionals who truly function as a team. The sense of community that exists on our campus is stronger than I’ve experienced. Collectively, my colleagues and I have created an office where talented people want to work.

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Steven. We hope to see you at the 2014 AER Conference, where Dr. Koski will be joining us once again as a member of our conference faculty

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