Membership Committee Highlight: An Interview with Katie Gillespie

Membership Committee: Katie GillespieMeet Katie Gillespie, research compliance manager at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT, and one of the two new members of PRIM&R’s Membership Committee! She is highlighted this month as a research ethics professional who is making an impact on both her institution as well as the PRIM&R community at large.

PRIM&R: When and why did you join the field?
Katie Gillespie (KG): Like many, this was a career path I didn’t know existed until I happily stumbled upon it! I worked at a zoo for seven years where, among other things, I managed accreditation, compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, and the review of research proposals. As you might expect, the majority of proposals we reviewed focused on animals, but when we received a large gift to start an educational research center, we decided to form a federally-registered institutional review board (IRB). Forming the IRB from the ground up fell to me and though it sometimes felt like a trial by fire, it was also extremely educational and led me to my current career path. As the research compliance manager/officer at Middlebury College I work with the IRB, institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC), institutional biosafety committee (IBC), and deal with other compliance-related issues (e.g., the responsible conduct of research).

PRIM&R: What is one tool you use every day that you could not do your job without?
KG: From the American Biological Safety Association (ABSA)’s Biosafety Digest to the IACUC Admin list to IRB Forum and others, listservs are an invaluable resource! It’s great to have a place where I can ask a quick question and get responses from a wide variety of colleagues. Listservs help me stay up to date on the nuances of interpreting regulations, best practices, and relevant stories in popular media.

PRIM&R: What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
KG: I seem to gravitate towards new positions (both my current position and my previous one were brand new!) where there’s not always someone to train me and I’m a one-person office. I like being able to pave my own way and figure things out as I go, but sometimes it can be challenging when I encounter an issue I don’t quite know how to tackle–there’s not someone I can physically turn to when I need to ask a question! But, that’s part of why I find PRIM&R so valuable – it’s like I have 4,000 co-workers who are just a little further away. [Editor’s note: Members can use PRIM&R’s Member Directory to identify and connect with a fellow member who might be able to help them with a question, a resource or a referral. The Mentoring Program and PRIM&R’s in-person educational offerings are great ways to meet people in similar work situations who can serve as mentors or “co-workers who are a little further away.”]

PRIM&R: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about research?
KG: That there’s a whole field of people behind the scenes making sure that research involving animals or human subjects is conducted in accordance with all the appropriate regulations and ethical standards.

PRIM&R: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field?
KG: Learn to embrace the grey area. Although my inclination is to provide definitive and clear-cut answers in order to be helpful, we live in a world of grey areas–saying “it depends” and doing some research is often a better approach than providing a quick and easy answer and needing to clarify or change it later.

PRIM&R: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
KG: As a graduate student I was terrified of the IRB–I was a problem child who even had to file a protocol deviation report! So, part of what motivates me now is trying to make going through any of our oversight committees as user-friendly as I can for our students, faculty, and staff. I want them to think of it as an efficient and beneficial process that actually helps facilitate research (while of course ensuring the welfare of the people or animals involved), rather than the intimidating or punitive process I mistakenly thought it was when I was in grad school.

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? What were they and how did they influence you?
KG: I attended my first Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference this past fall in Boston and the sessions I attended on small research programs were invaluable, particularly the one on working in a single person office. I enjoyed connecting with others in similar roles and it was really helpful to know that I’m not alone out there.

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?
KG: I constantly use the resources that PRIM&R offers to do my job better. I frequently mine the Knowledge Center for relevant webinars or templates of checklists/forms that might help me improve our processes here at Middlebury. I also recently joined PRIM&R’s Mentoring Program and am looking forward to learning from the wisdom of my mentor as I advance my career.

Thank you for your participation in the PRIM&R community, Katie! We look forward to the work you will do with PRIM&R’s Membership Committee in 2016 and beyond.

If you’d like to learn more about the Membership Committee or becoming a PRIM&R member, please visit our website today.