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Spring 2012

Leading through Integrity

Associate Vice President Alice Young channels her passion for the laboratory into her research integrity administrative role

by Sally Logue Post

Alice Young

Alice Young’s career has been defined by what sparks her imagination and by following “the interesting questions.”

Young is Texas Tech University’s associate vice president for research (research integrity) in the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR). Young’s position, among other duties, is charged with overseeing responsible conduct of research (RCR).

Young came to Texas Tech in 2004 from Wayne State University. In 2010, she was offered a faculty fellow position in the Vice President of Research Office. As is the pattern in her career, this position wasn’t necessarily something she sought out, but it did offer her an interesting challenge and fit with her belief that a university should instill RCR values in young faculty and students.

A decade spent as associate dean for research in the College of Science at Wayne State University had convinced Young of the importance of mentoring students and young faculty in RCR.

“I believe that one of the areas where we as university faculty can make a real difference with students is to introduce them to best practices in a variety of professional parts of our academic life, and that maps to questions of research ethics,” Young said. “It also is important that junior faculty be mentored. I have had colleagues at my previous institutions say that when the institution puts resources into that sort of development of personal and research ethics, that it helps protect the investment the university has made in junior faculty.”

Young’s own career may not be a textbook example of career planning, but she points to good mentors as the key to her early success.

An Unexpected Route

As an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Young was planning on going to medical school. She took a psychopharmacology course with Professor Bill Calhoun.

“He was talking about drugs that produce sleep,” she said. “I’m not sure why, but I found it absolutely fascinating.”

Research Integrity and RCR

The Research Integrity division of the OVPR was initially created in response to the National Science Foundation (NSF) mandate that all trainees working on NSF funded projects must be trained in RCR. The office encourages the TTU community to share in the responsibility of maintaining integrity in scholarship by promoting dialogue regarding ethical concerns that naturally arise from creative endeavors, study of research integrity as an integral part of career development and growth of an ethics “culture” in the TTU community.

The OVPR (Integrity) provides centralized education in RCR and monitoring of all documented participation in RCR seminars, workshops or conferences. TTU personnel can contact the office for certification or training “history” of all documented participation which can be used in grant submission. Currently, NIH and USDA (fellowships) request RCR training information. Furthermore, RCR education is provided in the form of online education, small group seminars given by the RCR Administrator, or large group seminars/conferences provided in partnership with the Ethics Center. Requests for training can be sent to researchintegrity@ttu.edu.

That course, coupled with her undergraduate research experiences, gave her a love of research and prompted a switch in majors to psychology, which led to graduate study at the University of Minnesota.

“I was lucky in that Calhoun had just had a postdoctoral position in psychopharmacology, and he knew the field and gave me good advice on where to apply,” she said. “The best advice was not to worry so much about how well known the school is, but rather to ask if I was going to have an interesting problem to work on in the lab.”

Young admits that she did not give much thought to what she would do next. Her graduate school years in Minnesota were spent in the laboratory, not the classroom. So to gain some classroom teaching experience she taught an introduction to psychology course at an art school in St. Paul. The students were mostly adult artists.

“It was a tough crowd,” she said. “I had to convince them that anything I was talking about had to be relevant to their lives.”

The one thing Young did know about her next step was that she wanted to continue to do research into opiates.

“I was fascinated by narcotics,” she said. “One of the questions I was working on was could we make an abuse-free narcotic. So I looked for a postdoctoral position and ended up at the University of Michigan working with Professor Jim Woods.”

After a couple years Woods began to push his postdocs to find faculty positions. Again Young said she hadn’t given much thought to her next career step. She applied for a position at Wayne State University and received an offer.

“I didn’t do anything about it right away,” Young said. “I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to get a faculty position.”

When Woods found out from a colleague at Wayne State she had not yet accepted the offer, he marched into the lab and fired her.

“He told me to take the job. He said being a post doc is not my career,” she said.

At Wayne State she again found interesting questions to work on as she continued to pursue her study on how drugs produce their effects.

“I had wonderful research questions to work on, great collaborators and wonderful students” said Young.

Her move to Texas Tech came in 2004 when her husband, William Hase, was offered the Welch Professorship in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. Here too, Young’s academic appointments are not traditional, they are split between the university and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). She is a tenured professor in the Texas Tech Department of Psychology, but because the department does not work with animals, her NIH grant was transferred to TTUHSC, where she also is a professor of pharmacology and neuroscience.

Her appointment at TTUHSC has presented Young with a new set of interesting questions–treating the behavioral aspects of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Young’s work is almost all collaborative. One project involves working with colleagues to develop a test for set shifting in rodents. Set shifting is a part of executive functions, or how humans are able to follow a set of rules and adapt when circumstances change. In Alzheimer’s disease and in other psychological and psychiatric disorders, executive functions like set shifting seem to be impaired.

“Before you can introduce a treatment into humans, the researchers must know that the treatment is safe and is effective against the kind of disorder you want to treat,” Young said. “In a psychological or neurological disorder like Alzheimer’s the disorder is behavioral, so you need evidence that the drug you’re testing is effective against the issue. So we work in rodents first to see if a drug is effective, helping improve the executive function.”

Creating a Safety Culture

While she continues to teach and work in her laboratory, Young’s work as associate vice president for research (research integrity) has developed into much more than she anticipated. But it has provided her with yet another set of interesting questions.

As Texas Tech strives to strengthen its culture around laboratory safety and responsible research, Young has taken on the oversight of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, research compliance, conflict of interest reporting, and RCR and research ethics training.

One thing that Texas Tech does that is different from other universities is that safety is included as part of RCR training. Young said that resonates with her research experiences.

“We really must think about safety and identifying risks in our labs, our fieldwork and our studios; it is all part of being a responsible scholar,” she said. “Any sort of responsible research or ethics has to be integrated into your program, it cannot be an add-on. That is the goal of what we are trying to accomplish here.”

While Young has much left to accomplish in her current position and research, asking her if she’s thinking about what might be next for her draws a laugh.

“I’m a behaviorist by training, and one of the points we make is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” she said. “And since my past behavior has not been to think much about where I was going next, I really haven’t done that now.”

Associate Vice President for Research Honored

Alice Young recently was named a Fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) at the organization’s annual meeting. The designation is awarded to individuals who have made substantial contributions to the field of neuropsychopharmacology and to the organization.

“This is a special honor,” said Young. “I’m especially thankful for the work ACNP does to encourage interactions among basic and clinical scientists.”

ACNP, founded in 1961, is a professional organization of more than 950 leading scientists, including four Nobel Prize laureates. Its mission is to further research and education in neuropsychopharmacology and related fields. It is considered to be the premier organization in the world devoted to advancing the neurobiology and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

“Dr. Young was accepted as a member of the College in 1997, a testament to her significant research contributions to this field,” said Ronnie Wilkins, ACNP executive director. “Becoming a Fellow is in recognition of her service to the organization as well as her continued scientific contributions in drug tolerance and dependence processes, and learning and memory disorders in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Before joining Texas Tech in 2004, Young was professor of psychology, and of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, where she also served as associate dean for research and graduate programs in the College of Science. She is a former recipient of a National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Scientist Development Award. Her research and teaching focus is on behavioral pharmacology and applied cognitive psychology.

Young earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She also received postdoctoral training in pharmacology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Sally Logue Post is Director of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Image courtesy Artie Limmer.

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