To celebrate Member Appreciation Month, PRIM&R would like to highlight some of our members—individuals who work daily to advance ethical research on a daily basis. Today, we highlight Erik Williams, who works as the Compliance Coordinator at Arizona State University.
PRIM&R: Tell us about how you got started in the research ethics and oversight field and what motivates you to stay involved?
EW: IRB “origin stories” are always fascinating to me. Very few people expect or aspire to become involved in research ethics and oversight—most tend to fall into it for one reason or another. My story began while I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I was involved in a project to update the IRB website (fixing broken links, updating language, etc.) and gravitated towards the content. After the IRB chair noticed my work and interest, I was nominated to be the first student IRB member. Serving as a student committee member was an incredible experience that I’m grateful for. It sparked a career I love and enjoy.
I think that work in research ethics has easy buy-in—we are contributing to the well-being of humanity by protecting research participants and facilitating science that improves the daily lives of people across the world. I love feeling like I contribute to society while protecting the rights of participants, but that isn’t what motivates me in the day-to-day. What I really love about this job is that I have the opportunity to learn new things every single day: new problems, new questions, and new solutions.
PRIM&R: What is one tool or resource that you use every day that you could not do your job without?
EW: I would say that it is my peers and colleagues. Part of doing this job is accepting that no one person has all the right answers. The subjects we protect are diverse—they are from different nationalities, experiences, locations, and opinions—and, as such, no one perspective can provide universal research ethics. Our solutions have to come from the collaboration of diverse perspectives and histories to solve the problem of protecting participants. Effective research is fundamentally a collaborative endeavor and, likewise, effective research ethics must be collaborative.
PRIM&R: Tell us the one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research/animal research?
EW: I wish the public knew that institutions which do not receive federal funding are not bound to the same expectations as federally funded research. I wish that basic research ethics were a requirement across the board. It is always sad to me when I hear a story about some animal or human subjects research that went wrong because there was no oversight.
PRIM&R: What is the professional accomplishment that you are most proud of?
EW: The professional accomplishment I am most proud of was becoming a student member of the IRB. I did not do much, in particular, to earn it, but I am proud of the fact that I established a legacy for new students to discover research ethics by becoming student members themselves. UW-Eau Claire still has a student position on the board. It was an incredible opportunity and I’m happy that new students will have the same opportunity.
PRIM&R: What is one PRIM&R resource or event you would recommend to another professional in your field?
EW: Attending an Advancing Ethical Research Conference is something that every IRB professional needs to do at least once. The nature of our work can cause us to become insular—especially at institutions with small or one-staff offices—and having the opportunity to connect with thousands of peers from across the world is incredible.