by Kimberly Hensle Lowrance, EdM, PHR, managing director
Today marks the first day on the job for Elisa A. Hurley, PhD, PRIM&R’s new executive director. Elisa, selected by the Board of Directors after a comprehensive search, has served as PRIM&R’s education director since 2010. Elisa succeeds Joan Rachlin, who retired yesterday after 39 years at the helm.
I sat down with Elisa during PRIM&R’s 2014 IACUC Conference to discuss her goals for her first year, what she sees as the biggest challenges in the field, and her inspiration to pursue a career in ethics.
KHL: Elisa, congratulations on your new job! What are your first-year goals as PRIM&R’s new executive director?
EH: Thank you! One of my priorities for my first year is to listen to the community. I plan to spend time information gathering so I can understand the evolving needs of those PRIM&R serves. I want to hear what we’re doing well and what we can do better in the future to continue to support our members and program attendees as they do the important work of advancing ethical research, and as they grow within their own careers. And I want to know where the community would like to see PRIM&R focus its energies next.
My other immediate priorities include (a) ensuring PRIM&R keeps doing what we do best, which means remaining the professional and educational home and go-to-source for all for those in the research ethics and research oversight fields, and (b) mindfully innovating what we do—our educational programs, our membership services, and more—in response to the challenges faced by research ethics and oversight professionals
KHL: What are some of those challenges?
EH: Novel research methods and technologies, an increasingly complex research and regulatory infrastructure, decreasing federal and institutional budgets, and specialization of the professions within our field are just a few of the issues I’ve observed as being on our members’ minds. For PRIM&R, hearing about these challenges is really a call to innovate, so we can continue to provide effective, efficient learning opportunities that are accessible and relevant to the full range of research ethics professionals. I will lead the PRIM&R team in both ensuring that our existing programming and resources remain fresh and appropriately responsive to current realities, and in developing new services that respond to emerging challenges.
KHL: What inspired you to select ethics as the focus of your career?
EH: In college, I was inspired to become a philosophy major when I took a wonderful philosophy of law class taught by Stephen Latham. I still marvel at the incredible influence a truly gifted teacher can have. Philosophy’s emphasis on clear, careful, and critical thinking and writing was so attractive to me as a discipline and—for lack of a more articulate way of putting it—philosophy just fit really well with how my brain works. Within philosophy, I gravitated toward ethics, which, at the broadest level, explores the fundamental question of how should we regard and interact with other beings with whom we share a world. To me, there is no question that is more pressing or important than that, or more central to what it means to be a human being.
My specialization in applied ethics—specifically, biomedical ethics—came during my post-doc, when I figured out how rewarding it was to take my skills and background in critical thinking and careful examination of ethical issues—my specific issue was how our emotions help us make moral judgments—and apply them to the real world. This realization would be critical to my coming to PRIM&R several years later.
KHL: Why did you want to become PRIM&R’s executive director?
EH: There were three aspects of the job that really appealed to me. First, I want to translate my academic background in philosophy and ethics into something that can have a real-world impact. Aristotle believed that ethics is a practical tool for living and acting well—and that understanding of ethics has always resonated with me. I came to PRIM&R as education director three years ago, because this is a place where ethics education has a direct and immediate impact on decision and action in the real world. Those we serve are the front-line defenders and upholders of ethical research practices and subject protections, and are thus incredibly important to both the public trust and to research success. I see in the position of executive director an amazing opportunity to help support these professionals in their critical work.
The second reason is the people. The individuals who are involved in PRIM&R—from our fantastically hard working staff to our engaged Board of Directors to our dedicated community of volunteers, members, teachers, and attendees—have blown me away with their thoughtfulness, kindness, and commitment. The idea of getting to work closely with and serve this very special community as PRIM&R’s leader is so energizing to me. What a privilege!
And, my third reason for wanting to be PRIM&R’s executive director is that, given the ongoing evolution of the research and regulatory landscape, I see endless potential for PRIM&R to grow and continue to serve the community. That’s so exciting to me.
KHL: Any final words you’d like to share with our readers?
EH: Thank you for your commitment to PRIM&R! As we celebrate our 40th anniversary this year, I, along with the rest of the staff, are so grateful you have chosen to be part of this community. I look forward to connecting with you during the year ahead and encourage you to reach out to us, and to me personally, to share your ideas and thoughts for PRIM&R’s future.
Lest you think Elisa is all work and no play, here’s a peek into her life outside of PRIM&R. In her spare time, Elisa is an avid reader (the last book she read that she really loved is Black Swan Green by David Mitchell); a foodie who enjoys exploring Boston-area restaurants with her husband, Chris, a computational biologist; and a singer with a local choral group (maybe we will see her onstage at the 2014 AER Conference singing a tune or two?!). You can learn more about Elisa by viewing her biography here.