Embrace diversity in every way we can: An interview with Eric Allen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Allen, MLS, CIP®, CPIA®, who serves as a member of PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group (DAG). 

Eric Allen has been a PRIM&R member for nine years. He received his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science from Greensboro College, and holds a master’s degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He has worked in the area of research administration for well over a decade at various universities, and spent nine years as the director for the Office of Research Compliance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Currently, Eric is the associate director of consulting services for the HRP Consulting Group. At HRP, Eric assists institutions with obtaining accreditation or re-accreditation, conducting program evaluations, and developing policies and procedures. He provides regulatory and ethical advice/guidance and is an improvement strategist. 

Joanna Cardinal (JC): When and why did you join the field? 
Eric Allen (EA): I originally joined the field of research ethics in 2000. This was a transitional point for me as I was ending my career as a commercial personal trainer. A friend of mine indicated that they needed a person to take on a new area in the research office, involving research compliance. It sounded like a fun and an interesting challenge, so I went for it.

JC: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours? 
EA: There are three critical skills for being successful in this field: 1) resilience, 2) patience, and 3) attention to detail. Additionally, if you’re good with people, the job will suit you very well.

JC: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life, or that you feel are particularly relevant to the field.
EA: There are a few worth mentioning:

  1. The article Institutional Review Board (IRB) Mission Creep: The Common Rule, Social Science, and The Nanny State by Ronald White motivated me to improve the knowledge level and perception of research ethics for investigators. This article stimulated me to find creative ways to change the culture at my institution around the topic of research ethics.
  2. The Menlo Report: Ethical Principles Guiding Information and Communication Technology Research forced me to realize that we are living in an evolving world where thinking out of the box is a necessity. In this field, we must consider how the research and teaching activities we oversee, condone, or approve will affect society, the environment, and the advancement of research in the future.
  3. Finally, IRB Management and Function and its accompanying member handbook were not only instrumental in assisting me with obtaining my CIP certification, but also provided me with a deeper understanding of my work and the work of my colleagues in the research enterprise. 

These materials were useful in committee members and staff. They were also helpful in clarifying job descriptions and responsibilities for human resources. Overall, these were the most influential documents for me professionally because they challenged me to constantly improve and always set new goals. 

JC: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have significantly impacted your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you? 
EA: One of the most memorable PRIM&R events that I recall was presented by Melissa Lewis who did a hilarious skit about IRB meetings. It’s amazing how funny the truth really is. Following the skit, she shared several stories that I found very clever and amusing. I was able to use the skit as an educational training tool for my compliance committees. I was also able to use this skit as justification to the institutional official to consider a new process for electing committee members. Since watching that skit I have become a professional people watcher which has made me more aware of individuals that hide in the group and I have developed ways to incorporate them into the discussion. Melissa is a great teacher and has helped me with my presentation skills. Her dynamic, yet simple approach has a way of sticking with you and continually influencing your actions, thoughts, and communication. 
JC: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career? 
EA: At my first conference, I was overwhelmed by how many people were actually in the field and how helpful they were. In particular, I was struck by the enthusiasm, bright smile, wit, and charm of Ada Sue Selwitz. Oh, and you can’t forget her distinctive southern drawl! Ada Sue was very easy to talk to and extremely helpful. She was able to translate what was going on because I was foreign to the research ethics lingo. Jeff Cohen was a true pleasure to meet as well. I was impressed by his vast knowledge of the regulations and his ability to connect with people one-on-one, or on stage in front of thousands as a plenary speaker. Both Jeff and Ade Sue have been instrumental in helping me define myself in the field of research ethics and develop as a professional in this field. 
JC: Why is the issue of diversity important to you?
EA: Diversity is important to me because the world is diverse and to truly conduct meaningful research the results should help everyone. The Belmont Report extensively addresses sharing both the burdens/risks and benefits, as well as doing the right thing for the right reasons. To make the world a better place we need to embrace diversity in every way we can. Not only is diversity good karma, it goes along with the fundamental theory that all men are created equal. 
JC: Why did you agree to serve on PRIM&R’s DAG? 
EA: I agreed to participate in DAG because I felt it would give me the opportunity to broaden the horizons of others. I am a firm believer in each one teach one and with this opportunity I will be able to get people fired up about research ethics, research, and expanding the PRIM&R community. 
JC: What would you suggest to readers who are looking to strengthen the diversity of their institution, organization, or company?
EA: I would suggest looking at the community, population, or audience you serve and asking yourself one question: Is my institution representative of that group of people? To strengthen diversity, including individuals from both current and future target markets/groups or areas of interests increases your ability to achieve success. 
JC: What advice have you found most helpful in your career? 
EA: In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” 
JC: 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? 
EA: I wish someone would have told me that this community of professionals, including government agencies, is all about helping others.