Partin to lead federal Office of Research Integrity

Colorado State University Biomedical Sciences professor Kathy Partin and Research Experience for Undergraduates participant Angela Alarcon talk about Alarcon's research project, July 11, 2012. Alarcon is a Saint Edwards University student researching for the summer at Colorado State University.
Kathy Partin and Research Experience for Undergraduates participant Angela Alarcon.

To Kathy Partin, integrity is more than a sterile research term; it carries weight in her personal life and everyday interactions. When author C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” he was considering people like her.

But for Partin, assistant vice president for research, director of the Research Integrity & Compliance Review Office and a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, someone was watching — the  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services which recently named her director of The Office of Research Integrity.

ORI, which oversees and directs Public Health Service research integrity activities on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services will welcome Partin in late December.

It was her work at CSU that solidified their decision, Partin said, adding that research integrity is an intrinsic cornerstone to the research process at the university.

“It’s part of our training mission to give students a working understanding of professional integrity. When they go into the real world, they know how to navigate ethical issues. It’s a wonderful approach and a community partnership, not really a compliance activity.”

Partin’s new role falls in line with her commitment to ethical research. “The position advocates for high quality research,” she said. “When you think about biomedical research and cures and treatments that can go from the bench to bedside, it can only happen if preclinical research is done rigorously.”

“Growing up” at CSU

Arriving at CSU in 1996, Partin said while CSU’s research ideals have shifted, integrity has remained at the forefront.

“We have come from a somewhat conservative, risk-aversive environment to a pretty assertive risk-willing environment from the leadership down to the faculty,” she said. “We have very good shared governance and I’m excited that the shared governance is willing to take some risks. We need that to be competitive in higher education.”

At CSU, Partin implemented and taught GRAD 544, “Ethical Conduct of Research,” with  Ellen Fisher, professor of chemistry. Fisher described the course, which they have taught since 1996 and aims to teach students about responsible conduct in research, as being at the forefront in terms of education.

“I routinely talk with people at other institutions and they’re almost exclusively holding an online course about research integrity,” Fisher said. “We — Kathy and I — said years ago, ‘That’s not good enough.’ We’ve got to have face-to-face time with students and involve researchers with active programs. It’s about having researchers say, ‘Here’s a problem we face every day.’ It’s the expert-witness approach.”

Fisher said students have been incredibly responsive. It’s a required eight-week class, so they may not be happy on day one. “But by the end of the class, invariably, they find it worthwhile. One student said, on the last day of our recent class, that it was the most amazing experience. She said, ‘Thank you so much for teaching it,’ and we got a round of applause. It was incredible,” Fisher said.

A fond farewell

Alan Rudolph, CSU’s Vice President for Research, said having Partin move to this new position is bittersweet in that she will bring her skills and strong character to a new institution.

In an email to faculty and staff, Rudolph reflected on Partin’s time at CSU.

“Dr. Partin has had an impact in many areas, including interdisciplinary research and research integrity,” he wrote. “She was instrumental in bringing the Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Neurosciences Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence to Special Academic Unit status, and in implementing the Office of Vice President for Research Catalyst for Innovative Partnership program that promotes interdisciplinary research at CSU.”

In looking back, Partin said she has been given “great gifts” during her time at CSU and that her role in research administration has been her biggest accomplishment.

As advice for the person who will aim to fill her shoes, Partin said, “Never lose your passion for research and the people who do it. Because that energy of the awesomeness of new discovery will carry you through many a hard day.”

The Office of the Vice President for Research will host a reception to recognize Partin’s accomplishments and contributions Thursday, Dec. 10, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Hilton Fort Collins ballroom, 425 W. Prospect Road.