Being part of this select group of Blog Squad members has been, for me, a great challenge, which I decided to accept last year, when I received a scholarship to attend the 2015 Advancing Ethical Research Conference (AER15) in Boston, MA. While reading the different Ampersand blog posts about the conference, I understood the passion, strength, and commitment that the authors put into the issues of research ethics. I think this was due to the commitment that PRIM&R puts into the issue of research ethics.
All these became the fuel that motivated me to want to share my knowledge and experience from a Latin American context. In my country, Colombia, we are making great efforts to see research ethics not as just another issue, but as an imperative for all those responsible for research involving human subjects in their protocols, from researchers and research centers, to research ethics committees—in short all those involved in the research process. In my specific case, my IRB works on issues of social and human sciences. Being part of the Blog Squad will be a great opportunity to meet and learn more about research ethics and share these exciting topics with others.
Participating for the first time in the AER Conference last year was a great experience. When I received the email with the confirmation about the scholarship decision I felt a lot of inexplicable feelings, to the point that my colleagues believed that I had won the lottery. And indeed, for a member of an IRB to participate in a conference of this magnitude it is to have won the lottery because the wealth of knowledge, contacts and other things that are acquired during a conference is unimaginable.
First, I thought about the great responsibility I was going to have because in Colombia very few people have been able to benefit from scholarships of this type; moreover, there are few who have participated in an event like the AER Conference.
Second, I was interested in learning about the experiences of people like me working in the field of human research protections. My experience has always been in the field of social and human sciences, and in my country, unfortunately the congresses and workshops that are made for research ethics always focus on biomedical and pharmaceutical issues. Unfortunately my IRB team doesn´t have a regulation on research ethics in my work area.
Though leaving my family for more than six days and being so far from them was a big challenge, when the Conference began, the first day was wonderful, which I largely attribute to the of the staff, participants, and faculty I met. First, Caroline Slymon, PRIM&R's executive coordinator, received the entire group of scholarship recipients with a welcoming smile before directing us to breakfast and inviting us to write on a board our feelings about participating in AER15. Then, my new friends and partners during breakfast spoke with me, about my job, my country, and especially about my family, and I felt that, more than researchers or members of the IRB, my fellow attendees were excellent people. And how can I forget my new friend Marwan Felaefel, our photographer during the activities, who was always attentive, asking each of us about our experience. Even conference faculty member Susan Kornetsky, director of clinical research compliance at Boston Children’s Hospital, during the first session I attended, offered to help me when my nerves and excitement overwhelmed me. It was a great support to express my ideas, then and during the following days.
Throughout the rest of the conference, I was able to meet more than 2000 participants, which was surprising because in my country, such conferences are not so popular. Despite being from different disciplines, we were all aiming for a common goal: to improve our work in the protection of human subjects in research. During lunch, I could share with people from different parts of the world and we discussed the conference content, obtaining different points of view about the work of the IRB, which allowed me to return to my country with a greater clarity on the importance of establishing regulatory mechanisms on issues of Research Ethics.
After participating in AER15, I was invited by the regulator of research in Colombia—Colciencias—to a team working to prepare National Dialogues on Research Ethics in Colombia (3rd version) about Public Policy Research Ethics.
This year, I hope to learn a lot more at AER16 and to meet more people working on these issues and share my experiences with them. As a member of the Blog Squad, I hope to offer an outlook as an IRB member of social and human sciences field on AER16, where in addition to the Blog Squad, I was accepted to present a poster during this year's conference, with the title of The Network of Human Research Ethics Committees in Cali (RECEIH Cali), Colombia: Institutional Expertise.