Faculty Interview Series: Don E. Workman

In this series of Ampersand posts, PRIM&R introduces you to our faculty, who help bring our educational programs to life. Learn more about their passion for the advancement of ethical research, their professional experiences and aspirations, and what goes on behind-the-scenes in their lives!

Name: Don E. Workman, PhD
Title: Vice President
Organization: Workman & Associates
Years Affiliated with PRIM&R: 10

Don Workman is teaching Institutional Review Board (IRB) 101sm on May 3, in conjunction with the May Regional Programs.

1. The elevator door just closed and you have 30 seconds to pitch who you are and why someone should attend IRB 101. What would you say?

The experience of attending an all-day workshop focusing on the IRB regulations is a unique opportunity for the new or relatively new IRB professional. IRB 101 will provide a comprehensive historical background to the regulations and then will overview the basic regulations, followed by a lengthy session of case studies to help the adult learner to apply their knowledge of the regulations to a variety of situations like those they will encounter in their professional experience. Having these presented in a large group context allows for questions and answers and exposure to the way in which seasoned professionals think through a variety of complex situations.

2. What other programs or research initiatives are you involved with outside of your work with PRIM&R?

In my role as a consultant I have the opportunity to provide training in human subject protections topics, as well as to review human subject protections programs in order to ensure that the policies and processes are in compliance with federal regulations. In addition, I am able to identify areas for improvement if there are weaknesses in programs or gaps between their practices and national best practices.

3. What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?

One of the true joys of this work is the fact that we can all relate to the principles of respect, beneficence and justice. I have not found any kind of work that draws from any deeper passions for me than the advancement of ethical research. In addition, I think it is important that IRB professionals have opportunities to see the end result of their work, which is not only the absence of noncompliance, but much more profoundly occurs when a new drug or device comes to market, or when the results of a social science study have a beneficial impact on society, or on the knowledge base within an academic discipline.

4. Looking back over your tenure with PRIM&R, one of your most memorable moments as a faculty member?

It is really affirming when you get to the end of a session and you feel the excitement in the room that comes from members of the workshop or didactic session “getting it” in a new way. As a presenter, the job of preparing a presentation and then delivering it takes you to new levels in terms of understanding your subject matter, and I very much enjoy seeing the “lightbulbs” going off for attendees as the information is presented, mulled over and digested in a new way.

One of the most memorable moments for me came at the last annual meeting, when I was part of a panel discussion that was scheduled for the end of the day on the last day of the conference. This is a session which often has limited turnout, and folks are often leaving early to catch a ride to the airport. This last year we closed with a panel presentation and discussion of Creative Solutions to Managing Staff and Budgets at Large Research Institutions. We had a surprisingly large turnout, and when we got to the end of the time allotted, the discussion between panel members and the audience had been so interesting and helpful that hardly anyone seemed to want to go. We announced that the session was over and a few people left, but we also mentioned that we would continue the conversation with interested members of the audience and almost everyone stayed for another 15 minutes!

5. What advice do you have for young professionals interested in pursuing a career in research, IRB administration, and/or related field?

Look for opportunities to do something like tour a cancer center with an experienced principal investigator or clinical research associate, and have them show you where and how the research is being conducted. It is very helpful to understand the context, and at times to have them tell you about the positive impact the research has had. IRB professionals at times are only exposed to risk information, problems with protocols and consent documents, and noncompliance issues, and often do not have a balanced perspective on the way in which the research community genuinely shared their interest in protecting the rights and welfare of subjects.

In addition, beyond the regulations and guidance, it is useful for IRB professionals to read relevant literature from social psychology, statistics, or other academic fields that would inform their work as an IRB professional.

6. What was the best form of training/education that helped you prepare your current position for your job?Attending the PRIM&R annual meetings, and local IRB 101 and 250 sessions were very instrumental in getting a 30,000-foot perspective on the regulations and their practiced application. In addition, a steady diet of IRBForum and the regular use of the search function to read through the archives is a very useful way to prepare for the daily challenges that fill the life of an IRB professional. I also think that training in effective communication and conflict resolution is critical since these are some of the most important skills an IRB professional will bring to his or her job.7. What do you believe is a key challenge facing the field of research ethics?

Our most daunting challenge at present is to figure out sophisticated methods for evaluating the quality of IRB deliberations. As an industry, we have developed more than enough checklists to ensure compliance with the regulations. It is time that we develop our human subject protection programs so that the regulatory requirements are the foundation and background for consistent and high-quality ethical decision-making. But we do not yet have useful methods for evaluating the quality of that decision-making so that we know when we are falling short of the ethical ideals.

And just for fun…

1. What are three websites, newspapers, and/or magazines you visit/read on a daily basis?

2. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky-I would ask each to talk about the books they didn’t get to write because they died too soon!

3. List up to three MUST-see/read books or movies (fiction or nonfiction) for those committed to advancing ethical research.

  • Managing for Dummies by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

4. Chicago is known for its Chicago-style hot dog and deep-dish pizza. What are you having for dinner following IRB 101, which takes place during the May Regional Programs?

I want to head over to Gino’s East on East Superior and carve my initials in the wall while waiting for my deep-dish crumbled sausage pizza.