If the Field Fits, Work in it: An Interview with Edith Paal

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 Edith Paal, MSJ, MPH, CHRC, CIP, IRB program manager at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Nora Murphy (NM): When and why did you join the field?
Edith Paal (EP): I joined the field in 2003 after working as a journalist and scientific writer. I worked for nine years as an auditor, then as an auditing manager in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Research Compliance Office, focusing on human subject protections, before joining our institutional review board staff in 2012 as a program manager. I was looking for an area that would allow me to apply my interests in science, ethics and regulatory matters, and writing/editing/communication, and this field has been a great fit in that regard.

NM: What is one tool you use every day that you could not do your job without?
EP: My willingness to admit that I don’t know all the answers, and to go find the answer, or at least an answer that we can support from a regulatory and ethical standpoint (because there are often multiple possible answers).

NM: What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it? 
EP: Too many of our investigators don’t know about the research-related services and resources available to them on campus. We are still working on overcoming this challenge by being as accessible as possible to the research community through educational offerings, blogs, and encouraging people to get in touch and stop by whenever they have a question. Being responsive to questions and concerns has also helped.

NM: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects and animal research?
EP: The stories that make the news, describing injuries to subjects or maltreatment of animals due to major ethical lapses, are the outliers. Most people don’t hear about the research that is being done ethically, where no human subjects are injured, and animal welfare and enrichment are high priorities because so many people work hard every day to ensure ethical and regulatory requirements are being met.

NM: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field? 
EP: It’s really worth it to take the time to deliver bad news in a way that emphasizes that, while we may have a problem, here’s how we can fix it.

NM: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
EP: I am motivated by, and grateful for, the opportunities provided by my work at an academic medical center. I greatly enjoy the variety of research proposals that cross my desk, and the variety of investigators I get to work with—everyone from students doing projects because they are required to do so, to seasoned investigators who are experts in their fields and for whom research has been a cornerstone of their careers.

NM: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career or do your job better?
EP: Attending the annual Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference whenever possible has been very helpful to me. I’ve found it beneficial to learn that other institutions and human research professionals struggle with the same issues that we do, and hearing how they’ve addressed them has helped me find solutions applicable to our workplace.

Thank you for being a member of PRIM&R, Edith! We’re glad to hear that your experiences at the AER Conference have helped you find solutions applicable to your institution, and we hope to see you in Boston later this year. 

Are you joining us in Boston in November? Learn more about the SBER and AER Conferences.

If you’re not part of the PRIM&R member community, learn more about becoming a PRIM&R member, and the benefits that PRIM&R membership provides.