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Nigerian scholar visits the U to level up research administration

Cheri Daily, executive director for Global Programs and Marketing & Communications and Iyiola Olatunji Mukaila, visiting scholar from Nigeria, flash the U at the Utah Olympic Park.

Iyiola Olatunji Mukaila might be hard-pressed to decide what’s more awe-inspiring—the freshly fallen snow he recently saw for the first time, or the Electronic Research Integrity & Compliance Administration system (ERICA) at the U.

During early spring 2023, Mukaila was a visiting scholar to the University of Utah from Nigeria. In his professional posts, Mukaila is a resident Research Administrator at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Administrative Secretary for the Animal Care and Use Research Ethics Committee at the University of Ibadan. He is studying research administration methods in the U.S.—specifically from the University of Utah—as a recipient of the competitive, International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) University Administration Support Program Fellowships in Research Management—a professional development program. Mukaila hopes his findings will improve the next generation of best practices at his institution in Nigeria and electronic central databases are chief on his wish list.

“We are still using mostly paper-based systems at my institution,” he explained, which can lead to a lot of inefficiencies in how university research is managed. “There are so many chances for a delay…people sitting on the protocol; documents being misplaced; people being out of the country or turning things in after deadlines. It all impacts the timeliness-thoroughness balance in the research ethics review process. And yet, the research must go on,” said Mukaila.

He enrolled in the IREX program to learn how other universities manage similar problems. He describes feeling an ‘a-ha’ moment when he was introduced to ERICA. “I immediately thought ‘This is what we must do,'” Mukaila said.

“The scholars who participate in this program are looking for ways to increase their skills and their know-how in terms of working with research compliance and ethics,” said Dr. Caren Frost, associate vice president for Research Integrity & Compliance (ORIC) at the U. Frost’s office, ORIC, is co-hosting Mukaila with the U’s Office for Global Engagement during his tenure in Utah.

Iyiola Olatunji Mukaila (center) with U research and compliance leadership.

Though two IREX scholars were selected to participate, only Mukaila was able to secure a visa in time to travel to Utah for the four-week, in-person program. He arrived just as the entire Salt Lake Valley was blanketed by a February storm.

“While the rest of us were grumbling about late-season snow in the city, Mukaila looked at the sight and remarked poetically that ‘this is where the sky touches the mountains.’ That made me see it all very differently,” said Heather Sudbury, associate director for Operations & Logistics in the U Office of the AVP for Research Integrity & Compliance.

That opportunity to see the familiar with a new perspective is one gift visiting scholars continually bring to campus.

“It’s about educating ourselves on what other universities are experiencing and sometimes, quite honestly, that also reminds us how great we have it,” said Frost. “Our U colleagues are truly wonderful in terms of managing compliance and integrity. These exchanges are also one way we gain partnerships around the world. It’s about supporting the global exchange of ideas.”

Iyiola Olatunji Mukaila, visiting scholar from University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

For instance, while Frost’s team was explaining to Mukaila how the Institutional Review Board (a group charged with the formal review and monitoring of biomedical research involving human subjects) system works at the U, Mukaila shared that Nigeria also has ethical review processes that consider plant use and conservation. In addition to safeguarding research on human subjects, those ethics are extended to the earth. “I think that is so beautiful and an expansive way of thinking about issues that also apply here,” said Frost.

When asked what he will be taking back to Nigeria, Mukaila is most immediately focused on implementing an electronic central research ethics management tool, but also acknowledges that some of the shifts he’s dreaming of will be a long game.

“Ultimately, we have to change the culture to help everyone see that they are on the same team. We need to cultivate more trust around a culture of compliance,” said Mukaila. ” The essence of research management is to support researchers and create a nimble environment for specification. My passion is to focus on good research administration, so the researchers can concentrate on good research.”