A View from Qatar: An Interview with Anjum John

PRIM&R Member Interview: Anjum John

Meet Anjum John, a program coordinator at Texas A&M University in Qatar with a diverse background in international research oversight. She is highlighted this month as a part of our featured member interviews, which aim to share the experiences of individuals within our membership who are making an impact on the research ethics field through their work.

PRIM&R: When and why did you join the field?

Anjum John (AJ): I joined the field of research ethics in 2006 almost inadvertently, when I was offered a job as an epidemiologist. In this role I noticed, almost constantly, discussions among my colleagues about the Research Committee (RC), its membership, and what they did. This aroused my curiosity and upon asking questions (persistently), I found out the RC was a committee set up by the organization to assess the feasibility of conducting human subjects research there. Over the course of two years, I learned more and finally came to the conclusion that although there was only so much one was told about ethical research, there was surely so much hidden below the surface.

Now that set me going, and I wanted so much to belong to the RC. Almost three years later, in 2011, I was officially appointed to be the coordinator of the RC in that organization. By then, I knew more about research ethics –I attended my first AER Conference in 2011. This was the turning point of my life, I should say. Being in constant touch with research ethicists from around the world, I realized there was a group of people who was actually passionate about promoting good quality, ethical research and again, I felt, I needed to belong and contribute. So here I am, now about 10 years down the road, learning and growing each day.

PRIM&R: What is one tool you use every day that you could not do your job without?

AJ: The one thing I could not do without each day would be the internet and my almost continuous access to it. I am able to look up things, learn more, and communicate more because of it.

PRIM&R: What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?

AJ: During my stint as an RC coordinator, I was once challenged by a couple of my fellow committee members about one of the decisions I made in sending back a human subjects research proposal to its investigators for a review and further elucidation about ethical issues. In this instance, I saw conflict of interest at work first hand.

I have faced this challenge during my work as a research ethicist many times. During that meeting, I stood my ground and slowly but patiently tried to explain and reason with my fellow committee members. I finally convinced them to understand there is a lot of learning involved in human subjects protections and we, as responsible members of a RC, need to take our responsibilities seriously. Learning and education are watchwords that are crucial to a research ethicist, in my opinion.

PRIM&R: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research?

AJ: I wish the general public knew when they were involved in research and I wish they would be given the choice to make decisions in their research participation, rather than sometimes being told in a patronizing matter that research participation is what is expected of them and they need to do it.

PRIM&R: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field?

AJ: In my experience, money and financial benefits seem to govern most research and there seems to be so little research being actually done for the sake of the research itself. It seems as though the gains from research, in terms of the benefits accrued by researchers during the course of its conduct, far outweigh the benefits research participants would actually receive from the research. When I first came to the field, I thought most researchers would be conducting research in order to contribute to generalizable knowledge.

PRIM&R: What changes in the research field most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?

AJ: I am concerned that the drive to publish more or to become famous or rich governs more research in the 21st century than its altruistic benefits.
I am encouraged that there is a lot more awareness about ethical research even though there may be instances of unethical research being reported or taking place these days.

PRIM&R: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?

AJ: Honestly, I want to learn more and hope that with my learning I will be able to be a role model to encourage others to conduct all research ethically. The growth and learning opportunities available in the field of research ethics is what motivates me to continue advancing ethical research.

PRIM&R: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have made a significant impact on your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you?

AJ: The Certified IRB Professional (CIP®) examination preparation made me more aware of my responsibilities and what I was supposed to do in my daily work towards promoting ethical research. I learned about this credential when I first attended a PRIM&R conference in 2011. I learned that every research proposal I reviewed needed to be studied in view of the impact it may have on those participating in the research.

Thank you for being a part of our membership community, Anjum! We are thrilled to know that our resources are helping you to further research ethics and oversight in Qatar.

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