Ethical Research Will Always Be a “Work in Progress”: An Interview with Kirstin Morningstar

By Nora Murphy, membership assistant.

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 Kirstin Morningstar, MBA, CIP, CPIA, director of Regulatory Services at University of Texas at Arlington.

Nora Murphy (NM): When and why did you join the field?

Kirstin Morningstar (KM): I’m not sure that many people set out to be in the field of research compliance, at least not ten or twenty years ago. I certainly did not. My initiation came to me by chance–I worked at a university when I saw an opportunity become available–a position that would allow me to be involved in research in some small way, without me doing the research! My educational background is in science, and I have held a life-long passion for science, medicine, and discovery. Because of my job I get to see, every day, exciting new ideas, technologies, and achievements that contribute to better quality of life for animals and mankind. It is exciting!

NM: What is one tool you use every day that you could not do your job without?

KM: Communication. It is my job to understand, interpret, and build processes that abide by the federal regulations, and communicate these to investigators in a way that is both easy to understand and apply. That way they can focus on their job: research. I also see myself as a liaison between investigators and the IRB, IACUC, and IBC. I have to find ways to easily communicate to investigators what the committees want or require, so they are able to respond quickly and appropriately.

NM: What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it? 

KM: A challenge has always been, and probably always will be, lack of resources. It is important to show the value we provide. Federal regulations will exist with or without us, but it is our job to implement and communicate them so that investigators can focus on the advancement of research.

NM: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about research?

KM: I wish the general public recognized the commitment of researchers, especially animal researchers. There is an extraordinary amount of consideration and care that goes into the conduct of animal research, and great strides are being made in both social/behavioral and biomedical fields because of this research. I believe it is time for animal researchers to be more vocal and open about their achievements.

NM: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field?

KM: Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Not only has another university probably already dealt with your issue, but they may have dealt with it better. The research administration community is extraordinary in that it is a very collaborative environment. Everyone shares materials they have and what they have learned, and from that massive storehouse of knowledge, you can piece together the best option for your own university or institution. You are not alone!

NM: What changes in the research field most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?

KM: Overregulation concerns me. It is becoming harder and harder to do research. For us in research administration, it is becoming increasingly difficult to communicate all the requirements to investigators along with the constant changes that occur. Sometimes it feels like a moving target and can be overwhelming. I am encouraged by organizations like PRIM&R that keep up with these changes and respond to proposed legislation. Rules governing research should have input from the experts.

NM: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?

KM: The changing environment of everyday life. There is always something new: social media, apps, new procedures, technologies, etc. We constantly have to assess what the changing landscape means for ethical research–what will be its effect, its potential harm, its potential good? Ethical research will always be a “work in progress.”

NM: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have made a significant impact on your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you?

KM: PRIM&R’s annual Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference as a whole inspires me. To see so many people there to learn, share, and generate new ideas that will promote or contribute to ethical research creates an environment of collaboration that is so important to this field. It helps to create consistency and identify tangible goals that we can all work toward.

Thank you for being part of the membership community, Kirstin! We hope to see you at the next AER Conference this November. Interested in attending the conference? Registration is now open.

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