Nothing New, but Everything New

After participating for the second time in PRIM&R’s Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference (the first time being in Boston at AER15), I am reminded of a familiar phrase often spoken by my dear mother: “nothing new…but everything new.” By this I mean that although the topics addressed during each of the conferences I attended were not new to me, the conference sessions revealed new insights because of the exceptional way each of the speakers presented them. In particular, each session provided practical ways to continue my commitment to ethical research and respect for the research within my local context despite a lack of regulation for social, behavioral, and educational research (SBER).

I feel I have achieved the goals I set for myself before the conference. My attendance was a success not only because I participated in the educational offerings, but because of the invaluable networking opportunities these conferences offer; from the moment I lined up in the lobby of the Anaheim Convention Center to check in, several of the attendees—with a kindness that characterized the meeting—engaged me in conversation. They were interested in knowing what my expectations were in attending, and about my experience in the field.

By the time the conference wrapped up, my primary takeaway was that, when there is willingness on the part of those involved in the research processes to protect human subjects—with or without regulation—safeguarding and respecting research subjects is made much easier. And there was no shortage of willingness and commitment to protecting human subjects among the attendees I interacted with at the conference!

Unfortunately, in my country of Colombia, the efforts that are made to train those involved in the research processes with humans often remain just that—efforts. Despite having national and international experts in our organization, the regulatory powers that be are unreceptive. To attend AER16 was to understand how the US advances and enforces regulation and how those on the ground support ethical research—concepts that may be helpful as Colombia advances regulation of its own.

In training other members of my home IRB, I do not hesitate to emphasize the differences between US and Colombian regulations, in addition to how valuable PRIM&R’s conferences are. I also can’t fail to highlight the work that professionals in my country like Deyanira Duque de Colciencias, coordinator of the four National Dialogues in Ethics and Bioethics Research, and the members of the Network of Human Research Ethics Committees in Cali, are doing to advance respect for human participants in research; as we say in Colombia, they have “put on the T-shirt” for research ethics.

So participating in AER16 has been for me “nothing new…but everything new,” and I hope to continue to pass on the insights I’ve gained from the experience to the effort to solidify protections for research subjects in Colombia.

Arturo Herreño Marin, MA, is a university professor from Cali, Colombia. He has a master’s degree in education with a focus on human development; is an educational research specialist in the context of university teaching; and has a degree in philosophy and religious science. He has worked with the IRB of Universidad de San Buenaventura Cali for the past five years, primarily on social, behavioral, and educational research activities.