In 2019, PRIM&R hosted the Social Behavioral, and Educational Research Conference (SBER19). I attended the "I Love My Job!? Perspectives Throughout a Career in Human Research Protections" session presented by Tonya Ferraro, Danielle Griffin, Ada Sue Selwitz, and Laura Youngblood. The presenters encouraged attendees to participate in a career mapping exercise to identify intrinsic and extrinsic career motivation, transferable skills and experience, and role models.
Recalling the session as I attended the 2020 Advancing Ethical Research Conference (AER20), this time virtually, I reflected on the year 2020 and everything that came with it—a pandemic, inequities, social and political unrest—and how as a community we resolved to come together, connect, share, and listen.
When comparing my research compliance career in 2020 to the preceding year, I realized how little fundamentally changed. Individuals submitted human subjects research protocols to the IRB, studies were still grant funded, students and faculty sponsors collaborated to meet research goals, and human subjects were recruited for studies.
However, due to COVID-19 quarantine, all in-person study activities with human subjects were suspended. IRB administrators closely followed guidance from federal, state, city, and institutional officials on pandemic procedures and we strategized daily on how best to support researchers. Researchers transitioned from in-person data collection to remote (online) study activities. Research labs and centers closed, investigators initiated emergency data security measures to protect participant confidentiality and privacy, and studies focused on COVID-19 topics.
On March 5, 2020, I recall a phone conversation with the chairperson of the IRB. I said, "so, what is this COVID thing?" Famous last words, one might suggest. Despite my naivete of the virus in those early days, we still had to support researchers with swift, precise responses. To compensate for gaps in knowledge, we formed a Research Compliance & Safety Committee. The goal of the Committee is to harness content-specific expertise and establish an inter-departmental plan for in-person research with sequential phases that permitted study activities to be scaled depending on the scenario, personnel, and study site.
The Research Compliance & Safety Committee worked closely with the IRB Board, research labs, centers, and clinics to assess risk, support in-person ramp-up activities (and ramp-down plans), and provide timely and consistent communication to researchers.
The original goal of the committee was to ramp-up in-person data collection, but with sustained quarantine restrictions the committee evolved to serve a greater purpose. We endeavored to support researchers, provide guidance to the IRB Board on safety and hygiene issues, and establish standard operating procedures for an array of person-made or natural emergencies that researchers may face, beyond a viral pandemic.
Today, the Research Compliance & Safety Committee:
- Considers the safety and health of research participants
- Remains accountable to the research community
- Keeps open channels of communication to disseminate safety and hygiene information in a timely and consistent manner
- Develops guides, policies, and procedures with an eye to their feasibility and accessibility
- Strives to implement approaches that are fair and flexible
- Makes evidence-based and data-driven decisions, based on information from reputable, expert sources, and from the needs and experiences of researchers
The year 2020 proved unpredictable, exhausting, and awe-inspiring. "Do I love my job!?" Yes, sometimes, most days, and not always... "Do I love my job because of the people in it!?" Yes, definitely.
Myra Luna-Lucero, EdD, is the research compliance director at Teachers College, Columbia University. As a researcher and teacher, people are her highest priority and she instinctively communicates personal concern with others. She is an adept communicator who thrives on face-to-face interactions with a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff. She brings these qualities to her work to empower others to make informed decisions and reach their goals.
Dr. Luna-Lucero encourages researchers to ponder the roles they might play in the alleviation of the troubling inequities that continue to shape our world. She guides researchers on how to treat everyone as autonomous decision-makers who possess unique opinions. She presents campus workshops on the importance of ethics, confidentiality, and protecting vulnerable populations. She meets individually with researchers to strategize ways to protect human subjects and do good work in the world.
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Past conference recordings, including for the 2020 Advancing Ethical Research Conference (AER20), are available for purchase in the PRIM&R Knowledge Center. Experience sessions like "I Love My Job!? Perspectives Throughout a Career in Human Research Protections" and access materials from this exciting event. Conference recordings more than a year old are free for PRIM&R members.