Every researcher at West Virginia University has filled out a research conflict of interest form at some point before starting their projects or studies. This means that every single researcher at WVU has either indirectly or directly encountered Joy Edwards.
Research compliance has an ever-changing regulatory environment, ripe with challenges, but we hope to be a facilitator and we hope to be able to be the translator between the requirements of the federal sponsors and the WVU research community.
Edwards is the Conflict of Interest (COI) Office Director at WVU. The COI Office provides the oversight of, and procedural structure for, the University’s institutional, research, faculty and staff conflict of interest policies and procedures.
She has been at WVU since her undergraduate years, when she earned a degree in journalism, and has been an employee of her department since its inception.
Additionally, Edwards attended WVU College of Law and received her MBA from the University a few years ago. One notable thing about Edwards is that she is a first-generation college graduate in her family.
She started working with the WVU research compliance office in the newly-formed COI Unit following law school in 2011 and the office has experienced several transitions since.
Among her responsibilities is to ensure that employees disclose all conflicts of interest, maintaining compliance with each University, state, and federal regulatory requirements. Providing guidance and support to the research community at large remains the fundamental goal of the office.
“Part of the function of the compliance divisions associated with WVU research is to facilitate the kind of platform that our researchers need to be most successful in their endeavors,” Edwards said. “Research compliance has an ever-changing regulatory environment, ripe with challenges, but we hope to be a facilitator and we hope to be able to be the translator between the requirements of the federal sponsors and the WVU research community.”
In managing conflicts of interest, Edwards’ office takes into account state and federal regulations in setting thresholds for the reporting of outside interests. Outside interests could include personal compensation from industry, equity interest or a management role in a company, or royalties generated from intellectual property rights. These outside interests have the potential to introduce bias in research and must be identified by the COI office and then mitigated or avoided based on management plans provided.
In addition, the COI Office regulates whether or not a researcher is using their WVU-affiliated accounts or resources to help them personally, such as using their WVU email for their family business.
“Compliance, COI in particular, is not the exciting part of some of the fascinating projects being undertaken here at WVU. The incredible researchers at this university have helped to elevate WVU to the designation of an R1 research institute, an honor that we have been assigned in the last five years,” Edwards said. “But with that comes the responsibility to correspondingly ensure that our research compliance administration units take steps to keep pace. We have to be sure that researchers have reported everything that they’re supposed to report and that we have all of the documentation that we need to alleviate that burden from them as much as possible.”
One important thing that Edwards wants the research community to know is that the Conflict of Interest office isn't a scary place. They are meant to be a resource to assist researchers in their studies and that researchers shouldn’t be alarmed to hear from their office.
“In fact, given the competitive and changing dynamic of industry-initiated research sponsorship, we anticipate the existence of conflicts of interest. When in doubt, just reach out,” Edwards said. “We're always there and available for questions about any potential conflicts. Outside activities have really become part of the nature of academic research communities. External financial interests involving industry and are not necessarily a bad thing, they simply require review and sometimes management. Don’t be afraid of disclosure.”