Look for the wiggle room: An interview with Kacey Feasel

by Megan Frame, Membership Coordinator

Welcome to another installment of our featured member interviews, where we will continue to introduce you to PRIM&R members—individuals who work to advance ethical research on a daily basis. Please read on to learn more about their professional experiences, how membership helps connect them to a larger community, and what goes on behind-the-scenes in their lives!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kacey Feasel, CIP, institutional review board (IRB) analyst at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, CA.

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you join the field?
Kacey Feasel (KF): I fell into the field in March 2008. I was sent to interview at an IRB office in Boston by a recruiter. The first time I had ever heard of an IRB was during my preparation for the interview. I thought it was something I would feel good about doing, so I tried to make a good impression. It must have worked because they hired me.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
KF: Communication and learning skills—being able to teach yourself something and then in turn explain it to someone else. The ability to write correspondence that is clear and direct. Learning to fit square pegs into round holes—being able to think creatively about how to apply the regulations and local policies to novel study designs. Most importantly, you need to know where to look for answers. You can’t remember everything, but if you know where to look, no problem!

MF: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
KF: In the first few months of my IRB career, I read On the Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health by Jerome P. Kassirer, MD. The book discusses the tension between the pharmaceutical industry’s interest in profit and the development of drugs meant to save lives, and how people in the field (doctors, administrators, etc.) can become caught up in this tension. After reading first reading the book, I remember having a revelation—I was very new to the supply-side of the health field, and naively took for granted that some sort of benevolence and government oversight kept corporations and companies in line. Ultimately, the book made me interested in learning more about research and made me feel that I was contributing, at least in a small, administrative way, to something important and good. I think most people want meaningful work, and for the first time post-college, I felt like I was moving into work that would give me a taste of that.

MF: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have had a significant impact on your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you? 
KF: When the councilwoman from the Havasupai tribe spoke at the 2010 Advancing Ethical Research Conference about the tribe’s experience with the University of Arizona scandal, I actually cried. I have Native American heritage and hearing yet another story of America’s first people being taken advantage of and disrespected, really broke my heart. It made me think much harder about secondary use of data and specimens. I’ve encouraged people I work with to take these types of projects more seriously and to give them a bit more thought because the consequences of not doing so can be serious.

MF: What advice have you found most helpful in your career?
KF: My former boss told me, “Don’t drive people crazy.” Also, my dad once told me, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you they’re smarter than you unless they prove it.” I liked that piece of advice because I think we need both confidence and humility. I work with a lot of well-educated people with prestigious titles, but at the end of the day, they’re still people. Their accomplishments are not a commentary on my capabilities.

MF: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field? 
KF: Good relationships with your “clients” make life wonderful. Ultimately, we need to balance the authority of the regulations and being “the IRB” with the practical needs of getting research done. I think when I first began I was very rigid about every detail being just so, but over time I realized you need to stick to what can’t be changed, but help researchers where you have wiggle room. When you start looking for that wiggle room, you find quite a bit of it. This goes back to “don’t drive people crazy.”

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Kacey. 

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