Education Committee Highlight: An Interview with Julie Simpson

Meet Julie Simpson, PhD, director of research integrity services, affiliate assistant professor of college training, and affiliate assistant professor of education at the University of New Hampshire and, along with Ted Myatt, one of two new members of PRIM&R’s Education Committee! She is highlighted this month as a research ethics professional making an impact on both her institution and the PRIM&R community at large.

When and why did you join the field?
Julie Simpson (JS): I joined the field in September 2000 upon taking the position of Regulatory Compliance Manager at the University of New Hampshire (UNH)… I worked in a different part of UNH at the time, and was looking for a change and a new opportunity… Although I had no experience in compliance or with regulations, I was an experienced educator, and the person who hired me was looking to promote the educational aspect of the position (the carrot versus the stick).

What’s one specific challenge that you have faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
JS: Keeping current with all the issues that arise in the human research subjects world—for example, now they include big data, genetics, privacy, and the increasing use of medical interventions by social scientists—and managing to effectively educate IRB members and researchers about them… I have not managed to overcome this challenge—it remains with me!

What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research/animal research?
JS: More about IRBs and their role, how much interest, care, and energy is invested by IRB members in fulfilling their role, and, at least on the part of UNH’s IRB members, how seriously they take their responsibilities as IRB members.

What changes in the research field most concern you? What changes are you encouraged by?
JS: The [changes to the Common Rule as proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)] if implemented as proposed. … Not only will [they] make the regulations more complex, and more difficult to understand and to implement, [they are] so convoluted that the research community will expend a lot of energy trying to interpret and implement [them] to the extent that actual human subjects protections could be negatively impacted, as most of us have limited resources.

I am encouraged by the interest that many new researchers—both faculty and graduate students—take in “doing the right thing” when it comes to conducting research with human subjects… I think the implementation of mandatory training—both IRB and responsible conduct of research training—has facilitated this interest.

What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
JS: My interest is in educating the next generation of researchers and helping them do the right thing when involving their fellow human beings in research, as well as working through the challenges in the human subjects protections field that arise as society and technology change… While the bureaucracy is sometimes frustrating, the intellectual challenge of the latter is fascinating.

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?
JS: Hearing Paul Gelsinger speak at my first PRIM&R AER Conference in September 2000 was incredibly moving… I was new to the field and the UNH IRB reviews primarily social, behavioral, and educational research, yet his talk had a profound impact on me… I think it really made clear to me, as a brand new IRB administrator who knew very little about research and human subjects at that point, the humanity of people who volunteer to be research subjects, and how, for many of them, their reasons can be wholly altruistic.

How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career or do your job better?
JS: PRIM&R is a wonderful and supportive organization… Not only does it provide multiple opportunities to learn and be supported, particularly when one is new or when one is facing new challenges, it also provides an incredible professional network and many development opportunities for experienced individuals… My membership is incredibly valuable to me—the conferences, the webinars, the provision of educational materials in the weekly emails, and the colleagues I have met and now with whom I collaborate—it’s worth its weight in gold!

What other programs or research initiatives are you involved with outside of your work with UNH?
JS: My position has multiple domain responsibilities (not just human subjects and vertebrate animals) so I have also been involved in the last several years with the University of Southern Maine’s Research Integrity Symposium (two years as a presenter and this year as a peer reviewer)… This year I helped with some logistics of the Research Integrity Officer (RIO) Roundtable meeting… Joel Relihan at Wheaton College (Boston) has coordinated the RIO Roundtable since its inception… The RIO Roundtable listserv is hosted by the Boston Consortium, and this year the RIO Roundtable moved its annual meeting to the USM Research Integrity Symposium… I am also a member of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA).

What challenges do you see ahead for human subjects/animal research? Any particular ethical challenges?
JS: Here’s a short (not comprehensive) list of some current and future challenges in the SBER IRB world from my perspective:

  1. NPRM
  2. Genetics
  3. Big data
  4. Mobile technology
  5. Increased use of medical technologies in SBER research