Spotlight: Q&A with Leslie Thornton-O’Brien, Research Conflict of Interest Administrative Specialist, Research and Innovation
Leslie Thornton-O'Brien, says that “Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community is not only a living document, but an inclusive document. When dealing with research, the two concepts of inclusivity and living ideas are the bedrock of the enterprise. To be successful within the research field, an individual must understand that ideas, goals, technology, and life change rapidly and we must pivot in order to succeed.”
How does your background contribute to where you are right now in your career?
I believe my varied professional background has brought me to this place in life. I have spent time as a wedding planner, an event coordinator, a project manager, worked with the Department of Defense, higher education administration, scientists, industry professionals, engineers, and interdisciplinary faculty members; all supporting my lifelong love of learning. These different opportunities have allowed me to be uniquely qualified to work with research personnel in the Research Conflict of Interest Program due to excelling in interpersonal skills, years of experience in logistical support, a thirst for knowledge, and a joy of working with individuals who want to make the world a better place.
What support do you provide for the research community?
As an administrative specialist in the research division, I provide multi-faceted assistance to the research community. First and foremost, I am the person that researchers will meet first in our program. If researchers have questions regarding disclosures, management plan inquiries, conflict of interest training, along with many other topics, I can certainly get them to the right person to help alleviate concerns, answer questions, and help maintain compliance.
How has COVID-19 positively impacted the way you do your job today?
COVID-19, while a thorn in all of our sides, has provided several positive opportunities for me. It has provided me with an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with my stepson while we’ve been in a shared space for a year, although I could do without sixth grade math. Having experienced this shared space for the last year, I am able to create an environment for faculty and staff at Virginia Tech in their dealings with the Research Conflict of Interest Program where we recognize personal obligations. I work with faculty members to answer questions, submit disclosures, and meet compliance obligations in a more fluid fashion. Additionally, the opportunity to be fluid in scheduling and work styles has allowed me to think outside of the box when looking for solutions to faculty problems and concerns. The team has been able to take calls outside of traditional working hours, provide deeper context via Zoom calls, and assist researchers with concerns related to disclosures and financial interests.
What inspires you?
I’m what you might call a jack of all trades and a master of none when it comes to inspiration. I love to experience and try different things like traveling, cooking/baking, photography, do-it-yourself projects, and meeting new people. I have a not-so-secret stash of crafting supplies for crafts I have not started, much less completed. I have a wonderful church family whom I miss due to the pandemic. I adore books that make me laugh. But, the thing that provides me the most inspiration are my family and friends. Our love for one another, the deep discussions, our faith, the side-splitting laughter, and the joy we bring to each other is what sustains me day to day.
When do you think you are at your best, professionally?
I am at my best professionally when I work with a great team and have clear goals for success. Thankfully, I work with a wonderful team in the Research Conflict of Interest Program. Our team goes out of its way to understand and implement current federal and state laws as well as help faculty and staff understand these requirements. In addition to being a part of a fantastic team, I love to learn. Being able to hear faculty exuberantly explain current research, learning about new subjects, meeting new people, and continuing my personal education helps me be excited every day.
In what ways does Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community guide you?
The concept that I love about Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community is that it is not only a living document, but an inclusive document. When dealing with research, the two concepts of inclusivity and living ideas are the bedrock of the enterprise. To be successful within the research field, an individual must understand that ideas, goals, technology, and life change rapidly and we must pivot in order to succeed. Consider cybersecurity and how rapidly this field changes. Our researchers are regularly shifting to accommodate new research related to viruses as well as working with new researchers from around the globe to combat threats to our security. These principles guide me to be inclusive as well as fluid every day and to realize that our end goal is to create research; whatever I can do to help our faculty and staff meet that goal is of the utmost importance.