Reflect, Reframe, Remember: Takeaways from AER16

This year’s Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference provided me with the depth of knowledge I was expecting, but also with a new perspective that I had not anticipated. Full disclosure: I went to this conference assuming the pre-conference program would be most applicable and useful to my job. The pre-conference that I attended, IRB201, was, indeed, amazing. I walked away having memorized the 45 CFR 46.111 criteria for IRB review and approval and the ability to apply them to a protocol (or at least a practice protocol). Over the last few weeks, this new skill has carried me far; it has substantially refined my pre-review process, allowing me to more thoroughly and efficiently deliver an IRB protocol to my IRB administrator for her review. As one of just four IRB staff members at my institution, anything that streamlines the process and decreases burden is welcomed, and my newfound efficiency has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

I expected—or at least hoped for—such results upon returning to the office after IRB201. In California, I had been excited to explore the breakout sessions and panels during the main conference, but did not know how applicable the topics would be to my job as an IRB research operations assistant at a mostly social, behavioral, and educational research (SBER) organization.

I was glad to be wrong. I got a lot more out of the main conference than I had originally anticipated, and have collected such a wealth and breadth of knowledge that I’m already using on the job, including:

  • An inside look at vulnerable populations as participants, which I plan to present and discuss at our next IRB members meeting
  • Contextual and historical notes from the US Public Health Service’s Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which I plan to incorporate into our company’s human subjects protection training
  • Tips and best practices for communicating with less-than-cooperative investigators that I plan to utilize

Alongside all these applicable, tangible takeaways is the new perspective and deeper appreciation I have for human research subjects. This conference was made possible because the subjects who enroll in studies make research possible. During the sessions I attended about vulnerable populations and ethical missteps, hearing some participants’ stories made me realize that we owe them so much. As I move forward in my career centered on the protection of human subjects, I’ll keep in mind this conference that reminded me why we do what we do and who the key players really are in the research studies we review. The research world could not move forward without those on the ground. So, if you are thinking about participating in a research study, please remember that you are valued and essential to the process of scientific advancement. And I’ll remember to thank you for the often difficult tasks you do for the sake of furthering knowledge.

Sydney Boone, IRB research operations assistant at Westat, is a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2016 AER Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who are blogging here, on Ampersand, to give our readers an inside peek of what happened at the conference in Anaheim, CA.