On March 7, PRIM&R welcomed Sharon Shriver, PhD, as its new director of programs.
I sat down with Sharon during PRIM&R’s 2016 IACUC Conference to discuss her background, what she finds most exciting and challenging about the research ethics and oversight field, and her immediate priorities at PRIM&R.
1. Sharon, congratulations on your new job! We’re thrilled to have you on board. Let’s start by having you tell Ampersand readers a bit about your background.
Thanks, Elisa! I’m so happy to have joined PRIM&R. My professional background divides evenly into thirds: the first third as a researcher in human molecular genetics; the second third as a professor teaching molecular medicine, genetics, and bioethics; and the final third as an administrator in research ethics education. Most recently, I worked at Penn State, where I led a team that created the Scholarship and Research Integrity at PSU (SARI@PSU) program. I’m really proud of this innovative program, which so far has reached over 10,000 students and faculty with discipline-specific, interactive programs on the responsible conduct of research.
2. How do you think your experience as a scientist informs your work in research ethics and education?
My professional life right now is really satisfying to me because everything in my past comes together so nicely. My experience as an educator taught me to be a good communicator. As an administrator working closely with the IRB and the IACUC, I created and delivered programs for a variety of audiences. I’ve worked in multiple environments: clinical settings, basic and applied research, academia, and nonprofits. And I have played both roles, as it were, in the research and oversight picture—as an investigator and as an administrator. Interestingly, what I have learned from having been in both these roles is how distinct they are, and how little communication there is between them. This isn’t out of any animosity, but rather comes from compartmentalization. Investigators are mainly concerned about the science, and meeting compliance requirements is often just a necessary step to doing research. Oversight administrators are so busy that they often have time only to focus on what they need from investigators, rather than think about the bigger picture. I’m curious about how to bridge that gap, which I think is really important. I want to help investigators become more aware of the regulations, the ethical principles behind them, and how they are changing; I think all of that can be helpful for writing quality protocols. And I want to help administrators understand more about the issues and pressures investigators face, as well as engage with the bigger picture of the ethical practice of research. I think that will help them interpret and apply the regulations, and ultimately make their jobs easier.
3. What excites you about the field of research ethics? What excites you about coming to work for PRIM&R?
I see increased awareness of, interest in, and questions about research ethics from both the public and the community of researchers. I think there is a greater demand for accountability, too, from the public, the government, funding agencies, and institutions. When I started my research career, it was just assumed that science was performed ethically, and that ethical principles were part of what was passed on to graduate students by their mentors. Now there are specific requirements for graduate and young investigator ethics education. And the public no longer assumes that because someone is wearing a white coat, that automatically means he or she is performing ethical research. Research and what makes ethical and responsible research, is in the news and commentary, and is being discussed more than ever before. But while there is more information flowing, not all of it is accurate. As an educator at heart, I see in this curiosity an opportunity to meet a critical need for quality information. PRIM&R has a long history of providing such information through our educational programming, and I am excited to join an organization that will continue to meet this need, to join the dialog, and shape the future direction of information exchange.
4. What are your first priorities/immediate goals at PRIM&R?
Well, I’ve been here about a month, and my number one priority right now is listening and learning. PRIM&R has been a successful organization for a long time, so I want to learn about what’s worked and how things are done here.
I want to help PRIM&R think about the big picture because things are changing—research methodologies and technologies are evolving, and a lot of research looks very different from the way it used to; regulations are in flux; the field is more specialized and professionalized than ever; budgets are tight; people are too busy; and the public is getting involved in research in new ways as partners and participants. My goal is to determine the emerging needs of the research oversight community as a result of all of this, and identify opportunities for PRIM&R to fill these needs by expanding what we offer, in terms of educational and other programming, and identifying the best formats and venues for our offerings.
5. What do you think is the biggest challenge for research oversight professionals these days?
I think the biggest challenge is time—no one has time to keep up with headlines, with journals, with changes in the regulations, with new policies. My sense is people don’t have time to breathe. This is ironic because keeping up on developments could make everyone more efficient. The challenge for PRIM&R is determining the modalities and technologies that will deliver to those who are interested and concerned the information they need, in ways that are helpful for them. I’m excited to help PRIM&R meet that challenge.
6. What are you enjoying most about your first PRIM&R IACUC conference?
Seeing PRIM&R in action at a conference has been great—the whole operation is like a well-oiled machine. I’ve been enjoying meeting PRIM&R’s terrific faculty and volunteers. Over the course of the few weeks I’ve been here, I have heard so many names; getting to put faces to those names here has been really rewarding. I’m also enjoying meeting the conference participants. At the pre-conference reception I ended up at a table with five young professionals, all of whom were doing something new at their institution, all first-time attendees, like me. They were so forthcoming about what their roles are and what they need, and they have so many ideas. I was taking furious notes! It’s really exciting—the people I’ve met clearly love the conference and are incredibly motivated and energized. They are interested in sharing their experiences and challenges, and that fits well into the listening and learning piece for me.
7. And finally, what do you like to do for fun?
Well I’m new to Boston, as you know, so I’m most excited about exploring the city and New England. My husband and I have traveled a lot but never in this part of the country. I love the history of this area, and the coast, and the food.
I’m a classical musician; I was a music and psychology double major in college and played flute in several orchestras. Later, when I couldn’t find an orchestra to join, I joined a chorus on a whim. I enjoyed it so much, I found a teacher and took voice lessons for years. My husband and I sang with a couple of choirs in State College (that’s how we met!), and had so much fun. So we’re looking for a singing opportunity here.
I’m also excited about the symphony. And I love baseball – we already have tickets to the Red Sox!
The interview is so good that I felt that I am speaking to Sharon directly. Her views are very straightforward and are very important in the changing world of bioethics. I wish her good luck in her new innings at PRIM&R!