From Conflict to Collaboration: An Interview with Aurali Dade

Meet Aurali Dade, assistant vice president for research integrity and assurance at George Mason University. She is featured this week as part of our featured member interview series, which aims to demonstrate the diversity of skills and experience in our membership community. This series is published monthly throughout the year, but for the month of May, we’ll be bringing you a new member interview every week as one of our many Member Appreciation Month offerings.

PRIM&R: When and why did you join the field?
Aurali Dade (AD): I joined the field in 1999. At that time I was nearing completion of a Master’s degree in biology and had been working in a molecular biology laboratory. I was looking for a position in which I could use my science education while having a lot more contact with people (and less time on the bench). I took a position in laboratory safety providing education and training, laboratory inspections, policies and procedures for researchers, and participating in the institutional review board (IRB), institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC), and institutional biosafety committee (IBC). Although I didn’t set out to have a career in research administration, the diversity in tasks and the ability to use my education and background to provide support for research was a natural fit.

PRIM&R: What is one tool you use every day that you could not do your job without?
AD: Negotiation and conflict resolution. A major part of my job is to understand the laws, regulations, and policies under which the institution must operate and determine the best path forward for implementation. This naturally involves stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds with different perspectives and goals. Even though we all have the similar goal of an excellent university and research program, the day-to-day priorities and focus of the compliance staff are different than the day-to-day priorities of the researchers. This can lead to conflict, but by using good negotiation and conflict resolution skills, that conflict can be transformed into a bridge for future collaboration and cooperation.

PRIM&R: What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
AD: One big challenge I faced in my career was transitioning from an environmental health and safety assistant director to an executive director of research compliance. Although I had been a board member on the IRB and IACUC and had developed the biosafety program and managed the IBC, there were many things that I needed to learn in a very short period of time (responsible conduct of research (RCR), conflicts of interest (COI), export compliance, research misconduct, and the intricate rules for the human subjects protection program and animal care and use programs). I overcame the challenge by spending quite a bit of time reading (regulations, articles, and books) and engaging in educational activities. As I attended conferences and met peers, I also developed a network of resources to reach out to when I couldn’t find the answers I needed elsewhere.

PRIM&R: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects and animal research?
AD: I wish the general public understood the care that institutions take when assessing the ethics of human and animal research, and the deep responsibility felt for the subjects of that research. I have now been involved with boards and administrative offices at three institutions and uniformly the faculty and staff care deeply about performing ethical research. I think there is a misperception, especially on the animal research side, that very little institutional oversight is involved. When members of the public get to see our operations, as external board members who join the IRB or IACUC for instance, they express amazement at the depth to which protocols, programs, and facilities are reviewed and the ongoing oversight of the projects.

PRIM&R: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field?
AD: I wish someone had told me about the importance of taking a risk-based approach and prioritizing strategically in this field. It is important to focus on the issues of highest priority, understand that you have limited resources and can only accomplish so much in a day, and to communicate upward any risks that you cannot address. This isn’t passing the buck; instead it is fully communicating the accomplishments and challenges of your position or department so that decision makers can determine where to allocate resources.

PRIM&R: What changes in the research field most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?
AD: Since I have always worked for state institutions, the change that is most concerning to me is the reduction in support for institutions of higher education from state governments. Although this is generally framed in the context of costs to students, it also has a big cost to our research faculty because faculty are expected to make up the difference by securing external funding and more positions are relying on external support (grant funding, etc.) which adds a lot of stress to the system. I am most encouraged by the shift in faculty attitudes about responsible conduct of research and compliance. I find far more faculty members now that are supportive of the work that we do and understand the importance.

PRIM&R: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
AD: I believe that good research is ethical research. Physicians and researchers need to be able to rely upon the results of others to advance science. Our role is critical in that we support well thought out ethical research and investigate instances where research has gotten off track. We support discoveries and furthering of scientific knowledge that improves the quality of life for millions.

PRIM&R: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career or do your job better?
AD: Conferences and webinars have highlighted areas where approaches and programs need further consideration. The PRIM&R community of professionals provides invaluable information and contacts. After each conference or webinar I have list of items to consider for helping improve our programs as well as new contacts to further build my professional network. This information and networking is invaluable to ensuring an excellent institutional program that protects subjects while supporting our research mission and our researchers.

Thank you, Aurali, for your years of dedication to the field of research ethics! We’re glad to have you as a part of our community.

Learn more about Member Appreciation Month

Find Aurali on Twitter: @AuraliDade