IRB’s Jonathan Miller named Employee of the Month

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Jonathan Miller-9You probably remember a few of your early jobs: sweeping floors, stocking shelves, pumping gas, cutting grass, maybe serving ice cream?

One particular job sticks out to Jonathan Miller.

“It was a job delivering office supplies at Mississippi State University,” says Miller, who vividly recalls lugging office paper up flights of stairs during a long, hot summer in Starkville. “There was no elevator in some buildings, and it was coming to the end of the fiscal year. Anyone with money left in the budget used it to buy copier paper. I had to deliver it.

“I knew it wasn’t a job I’d want to do forever, but it gave me the chance to meet a lot of people on campus and learn my way around.”

Tired of dragging hand trucks loaded with boxes, Miller dropped his delivery off at the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) office one late summer day, and asked a question — do you guys have a job?

Miller had no idea what constituted regulatory compliance. But more than a decade later, he has that job to thank for his current one — director of UAB’s IRB for Human Use. After merely 17 months at UAB, Miller has impressed faculty researchers with his knowledge, compassion and diligence — all qualities that make him May’s Employee of the Month.

What is UAB’s IRB? It is a committee established under federal regulations for the protection of human subjects in research. Its purpose is to help protect the rights and welfare of human participants in research conducted under the auspices of the university.

UAB policy requires that all research involving human subjects be reviewed and approved by the UAB IRB before the research begins. This requirement applies to all human-subjects research conducted by faculty, staff and students, on and off campus, regardless of funding. As director, Miller must oversee it all.

“Jonathan is doing an outstanding job,” says Robert Kimberly, M.D., director of the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science. “He has energized the IRB office and transformed it into an outward-looking, service-oriented entity striving to work with investigators on behalf of participants so that our investigative research mission can move forward to the benefit of, and with safeguards for, all.”

Nominate someone for Employee of the Month

Each month, UAB recognizes an outstanding employee for their dedication, hard work and contributions to our success. If you know of a great employee who exemplifies what is best about UAB and would like to nominate them for Employee of the Month, just send at least three letters of nomination using examples and as much detail as possible to Hard-copy nominations can be submitted through campus mail at Employee of the Month Committee, AB 360, 0103.

David Schwebel, Ph.D., associate dean for research in the sciences, says Miller’s knowledge about the ethical treatment of human participants in clinical trials is immense. “He understands federal regulations and requirements as well as anyone I’ve ever met,” Schwebel says. But, he adds, Miller also possesses the ability to communicate the value of the IRB and the ways it can help researchers in their work.

“Jonathan truly cares about research and values the innovations and discoveries UAB’s talented faculty uncover with their human-subjects research,” Schwebel says. “Jonathan works to streamline faculty research, not impede it. Slightly more than a year into his position, he has made changes that reduce faculty burden and is planning to institute many more in the coming months. He is caring and receptive to concerns and responsive to make UAB a better place.”

“Our job is not to create roadblocks for research but to help our investigators meet the challenges of doing their research in a way that protects human subjects and meets the requirements of the regulations,” Miller says. “We don’t see our job as telling investigators how to do their research. We want them to tell us the research they want to do and how they want to accomplish it, and we will help them get there.”

It’s this kind of calm, thoughtful approach that makes the IRB a can-do administrative unit.

“Jonathan listens and tries to understand the issues so that he can recommend an appropriate solution,” says Richard Marchase, vice president for Research and Economic Development.

Jennifer Croker, Ph.D., program director for the Comprehensive Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Autoimmunity Center, says Miller does a commendable job to work with investigators and administrators to adopt policies and procedures that support research, minimize barriers and protect the best interests of the participants. The help she has received from Miller and his office has made a big difference.

“For me personally, Jonathan and his colleagues have been crucial in the development of complex human-subjects protocols and in the conduct of long-term programs, which have benefited from their insight, expertise, thoughtful consideration and advice,” Croker says. “His positive attitude, energy and enthusiasm set the tone for all administrative services at the institution. His leadership and dedication to making this environment more efficient, more agile and more productive will enable all of us to be more successful.”

Miller is quick to praise the team of 20 administrators who work with investigators on campus and abroad to conduct outstanding science while maintaining the highest commitment to ethical standards and transparency in the involvement of human subjects.

“It’s really a great team here,” Miller says. “We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t all-hands-on-deck from the front desk through the senior staff. It’s a team that’s willing to pitch in and do anything that needs to be done.”