Catherine Smith started her career as an environmental science officer in the U.S. Army. Delaney Reilly was an ICF intern. Today, they’re the Dynamic Duo—lead detectives in the Hunt for Conflicts of Interest (COI).
Yes, it’s a thing. A very important thing that began with a 10-year contract to support the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. NTP works to identify potentially hazardous substances and evaluate their effects for human health. And it relies on outside scientists to peer review its findings.
Together, this duo has reviewed reports covering everything from chemicals and pesticides to food additives and drugs. Delaney investigates companies with possible COI related to substances the NTP assesses. Catherine dives into reviewers’ connections to these organizations. “Our role is to find the potential for any ethics issues—financial or otherwise,” Catherine explains. From the organizations or companies that create the substance or the review panel assessing the report.
The right formula for career success
How do you get a job like this? “We each have a Master of Environmental Management degree,” explains Catherine. Which focuses on relationships between science, management, and policy. Initially, both women had smaller roles on this contract. But proved their investigative insight early on. “As an intern,” continues Delaney, “I was asked to provide input shortly after we won the contract. It’s exciting to build a process from the ground up. You really get to refine every aspect of it!”
Also exciting? “We learn a lot about how chemicals are manufactured!” adds Delaney. And while one review made Catherine reevaluate her snack choices (after assessing artificial flavorings), the most interesting thing she’s encountered (so far) was researching COI for the Review of Shift Work at Night, Light at Night, and Circadian Disruption. Her role was to identify scientific experts to serve as a peer reviewer. “I was reading up on one scientist who researches the effects of light on circadian regulation in humans. He also works with NASA to design space craft interiors.”
When they’re not sleuthing, Catherine is...watching mystery programs on the BBC. Delaney studies history. (Neither hobby surprising, given their line of work!) And they’d both like to come clean. Technically, this work requires more than two minds. Says Catherine, “Our COI evaluation team includes ICF employees with backgrounds in just about every science.” (At ICF, we have an impressive array of -ologists.)
Learn more about science careers at ICF.