Encourage others: An interview with Natalie Mays

by Joanna Cardinal, Assistant Director for Membership and IT Operations

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Mays, BA, LATG, CPIA, who serves as a member of PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group. Read previous posts in the series here.

Natalie Mays has been a PRIM&R member for five years. She is the director of the office of the institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) and institutional biosafety committee (IBC) at New York University Langone Medical Center (NYULMC). Prior to joining the team at NYULMC, Natalie was the IACUC director at Columbia University and Columbia University Medical Center. There she was responsible for the administrative management of the IACUC for a large animal care and use program. She has been involved with the work of IACUCs since 1988, and has served on various IACUCs as the regulatory compliance and training coordinator in northeast Ohio. Natalie has been active in the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) at the local and national levels serving on various committees.

Joanna Cardinal (JC): When and why did you join the field? 
Natalie Mays (NM): My first job in this field was as a laboratory research assistant in 1980. My Bachelor’s degree is in microbiology so I was hired to maintain bacterial cultures for an assay performed in our lab. The assay preparation involved animal tissue which was my introduction to animal research.

JC: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours? 
NM: My current position as a director involves not only diplomacy but extensive regulatory knowledge. Those skills were also vital as a research compliance coordinator.

JC: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
NM: I read all of the AALAS certification exam training manuals in preparation for the laboratory animal technologist (LATG) exam. They were very helpful since I didn’t enter this field as an animal technician which would have given me some basic facility knowledge. Also, The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents was very interesting to me. Many years after reading the book, it was a pleasure being able to work with one of the authors, Dr. John E. Harkness.

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? 
NM: Many years ago, the ARENA (the former membership division of PRIM&R) conferences helped me transition from the researcher side of this field to the regulatory compliance side. Also, the networking that occurred at the ARENA meetings helped introduce me to others affiliated with the regulatory field including veterinarians and IACUC members. More recently, information on the Certified Professional IACUC Administrator (CPIA®) credential was instrumental in my decision to seek CPIA certification.

JC: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career?
NM: I have served as a member of PRIM&R’s IACUC Conference faculty for several years. As a presenter, I’ve had attendees approach me to request my contact information. Some attendees indicate that they feel comfortable talking to me because I am a person of color and my background in this field is so varied. This is viewed favorably by senior management at my current institution. I was also a co-presenter on a PRIM&R webinar. That experience not only gave me a better appreciation for all of the hard work that the PRIM&R staff performs to advertise and present these webinars but it also provided me with a good opportunity to re-evaluate our institutional policies and suggest updates.

JC: Why is the issue of diversity important to you? 
NM: When I first entered this field more than 30 years ago, I didn’t encounter many individuals who looked like me in the research labs. I did encounter many people of color working as animal caretakers or supervisors in the animal facilities but not many vet techs, senior administrative, or regulatory personnel. I wasn’t interested in remaining in a lab and wanted to move into the regulatory area. I found out about professional organizations such as AALAS that sponsored local meetings. That is where the networking occurred. I met my mentor, Bob Voigt, at a local meeting. He encouraged me to network with others in the field and also to encourage others to join.

JC: Why did you agree to serve on PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group (DAG)? 
NM: After attending many PRIM&R and ARENA conferences both to give and listen to presentations, I’ve been fairly disappointed by the lack of diversity in the faculty and attendees. As an African-American female, I try to identify with and encourage those in similar situations. Thanks to PRIM&R, I’ve successfully mentored others. Being a member of the DAG provides me with the opportunity to take part in promoting diversity within the animal care and use community. I feel that as a “seasoned” individual in this field, I possess the knowledge and the experience to encourage others in pursuing careers in animal research specifically in the IACUC and IBC arenas. As the director of both the IACUC and the IBC, I often encounter individuals who are not accustomed to seeing someone such as me in this position. I once met a researcher who was the first Jewish person admitted into the dental school he attended. Even though this researcher attended dental school in the 1950’s, he thought enough of me to let me know that he was proud of me simply because of my gender, job title, and race. I want to provide that type of encouragement to others. That can be accomplished by being a member of the DAG.

JC: What would you suggest to readers who are looking to strengthen the diversity of their institution, organization, or company? 
NM: Networking is good for those looking to fill open or prospective positions with qualified individuals. Decide the type of person you’re interested in hiring. Are you in a major metropolitan area with a diverse population or are you in a more homogeneous area? Utilize your human resources staff to develop a plan that will attract diverse populations to your institution. Also, work with community colleges or trade schools in your location to identify individuals who might add diversity to your workforce.

JC: What advice have you found most helpful in your career? 
NM: My mentor always told me to keep current and never stop looking for the next better opportunity.

JC: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field?
NM: I’m a very sensitive person. When I first entered the regulatory compliance area of animal research, I had to learn not to take things personally. I also quickly learned to let individuals know that the regulations aren’t my rules; they are the federal government’s rules.

Interested in hearing more from the DAG? Join us on December 6 at the 2012 AER Conference for Grand Finale 7 -The Uncomfortable Conversation: Talking about Diversity.

Your thoughts on this important topic are welcome. To share your perspective on diversity with the DAG, please leave a comment or email membership@primr.org