Amanda Watts pursued her undergraduate studies with an eye on a career in veterinary medicine. She graduated with a degree in animal science, but also with a new direction in mind.
|Amanda Watts is March's Employee of the Month.|
While she enrolled at UAB to earn a graduate degree in biology, she was attracted to research. Now six years after receiving her degree, Watts is working in an area she never dreamed she would enter —research compliance.
Watts is the associate director of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) — the office responsible for maintaining accurate records to ensure clear accountability and the high quality of the program. Co-workers say Watts performs her role admirably and with respect for researchers, and that is the reason she was selected March’s Employee of the Month.
“Our office has two real responsibilities: Protecting the institution and providing a service to the research community. Amanda exemplifies both of those,” says David Cannon, director of the IACUC. “She has a strong work ethic and a very good customer-service attitude. That attitude is conveyed to the office staff and our faculty.”
Watts is a certified professional IACUC administrator, a nationally recognized certification through the Council for Certified Professional IACUC administrators. The certification is designed to improve the quality of animal-care and use programs nationwide by promoting ethical practices and advanced knowledge of IACUC administration. The certification only has been available since October 2007, and few have been awarded nationwide.
The certification demonstrates that Watts has a high level of dedication to IACUC administration as a profession, has potential for career advancement opportunities, validates her knowledge of the field and strengthens the profession by providing an established body of relevant knowledge and national standards of practice in IACUC administration. It’s a long way to come from the idea of becoming a veterinarian.
“I never really thought very seriously about a compliance career,” Watts says. “But once here, it just seemed to fit me very well. I really, really enjoy it.”
Watts’ co-workers say she is an integral part of the IACUC, and they point to how she handled a major change in their department in 2010. The former director of the IACUC accepted a postion outside of UAB, and Watts was thrust into the director role on an interim basis for six months.
“The office ran so smoothly,” says Amber Sargent, administrative associate of the IACUC. “Amanda is very dedicated to her job. She eats, sleeps and breathes it. She comes in early and leaves late making sure that everything is completed.”
Co-workers say the change they faced in 2010 could have been especially rough on the group. Their office of six was down to five. And the IACUC office staff has to keep track of hundreds of investigators that use animal models and process their numerous active protocols annually. They also audit campus labs every six months and have many key facilities to inspect every six months.
“Because we’re a small office, we all have our plates pretty full,” says Cara Williams, compliance coordinator. “Amanda took on all of our previous directors duties while handing over very few of her own duties to us. She worked long hours and never failed to give to us, her position or UAB anything but her best.”
Watts says the main challenge she faced was effectively managing the two positions simultaneously.
“I had a lot of help from my co-workers, and I greatly appreciate them for that,” she says. “They were especially good at helping me stay sane. You’re constantly switching from one thing to another. It was hard to keep track of everything. I can be a little bit of a control freak, and it’s sometimes hard for me to turn things over when I should. But it was a very good experience, and it helped me see what I was capable of doing.”
Shortly after Cannon was brought on board as the new director of the IACUC, he promoted Watts from assistant to associate director.
“She provides a critical role to the day-to-day operations of the office and the staff,” Cannon says.
Watts’ co-workers say her work ethic and calm demeanor make her an asset to the office.
“She handles adversity with professionalism, grace and wit,” says Emily Helman, project manager.
Watts says she enjoys working in an environment in which she can help researchers. She says there are times when it’s tough for investigators because of the amount of paperwork that has to be done for a project, but her office is here to, “help them on the front end so they don’t have any problems on the back end.
“We’re trying to help our researchers and the animals,” Watts says. “Sometimes when a researcher is upset, you have to remember that people get frustrated and they just need somebody to hear them out. You just have to be that ear for them and help them rectify the situation instead of being an obstacle. That’s what I really work hard to do.”