Where do you work?

Posted by Catherine Rogers, Marketing Coordinator

It was a taxicab ride like any other: Within a few blocks, the driver and I had exchanged typical pleasantries about how I was doing, how he was doing, the weather, and the Red Sox. That was the first time the conversation came to a halt.

“I don’t know much about baseball, but I work right behind Fenway Park,” I said, trying to salvage a shred of dignity after admitting I’m not a sports fan.

“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Where do you work?”

Halfway through reciting PRIM&R’s full name, I saw the driver’s eyes glance into the rearview mirror. By the time I had said, “…and Research,” he was staring into the mirror.

“Okaaaaaaay,” he said, audibly digesting my response. “And what does Public Research, er, Medicine and… What does your organization do?”

At that moment, I could have sworn that the screeching brakes I heard were real. The driver was looking into the mirror for so long. How could he possibly have been watching the road? He cleared his throat, and asked, “Well?”

Snapping back to reality and recalling our mission statement, I told him that PRIM&R is dedicated to advancing ethical research. For a moment I was relieved to have conjured that phrase, exactly as I had read it in our Style Guide the day before, but the driver wasn’t in it for the small talk. He politely asked what I was talking about.

So I told him, and began with what I was working on that week: Publicizing a variety of events across the country where researchers, ethicists, lawyers, representatives from the federal government, and others can come to learn about maintaining ethical standards in the conduct of research. The research might involve humans or animals, whether it’s for drug trials, genes, social issues, or embryonic stem cells.

The driver nodded attentively, and asked a few questions as I told him more about PRIM&R’s membership base and online endeavors. By the time I was finished explaining, we were moments away from my destination, which made for a quick wrap-up, thank you, and goodbye.

I exited the cab a little dazed, but proud to have summarized an organization whose broad scope seems difficult to capture in just a few words, especially to a person outside the world of research. It hasn’t happened since, but I know that when it does, I’ll be less daunted at the prospect of boiling down, to layman terms, what it means to advance ethical research.

But what about you? Whether your work involves institutional review boards, human research protection programs, institutional animal care and use committees, embryonic stem cell research oversight committees, or institutional biosafety committees, how do you go about explaining what you do to the (lucky) person who happens to ask?

While the intricacies of the research enterprise might be hazy to many and unknown to most, everyone shares a common bond: Advances in research affect you, me, your neighbors, your in-laws, and generations yet to come. This might be the best starting point, as a shared experience is the best way to make connections, especially across the broad scope of advancing ethical research.