Research, like so many other fields, has been revolutionized by technology, with investigators employing high-tech tools and specialized software to more precisely collect and interpret their data, and federal, state, and institutional guidelines requiring that information be managed, stored, and shared using current best practices in data security for human subjects research.
John Bulluck, Research Systems Analyst, has been helping researchers with the Sensory Experiences Project (SEP) determine the best strategies for tackling these ever-evolving technological challenges since 2008. In mid-2012, he began devoting 20 percent of his time to assisting other researchers throughout the Department of Allied Health Sciences through the DAHS Office of Research (DAHS-OOR).
Originally from Atlantic Beach, NC, Bulluck earned his BS in psychology with a special interest in research and statistics from East Carolina University. He worked directly with children with autism and their families and then with HIV-positive patients before becoming involved with software application and development. After 10 years in the internet and e-commerce database business world, Bulluck felt compelled to return to a helping role.
“I wanted to do something that was going to help someone,” he said. “I wanted to know I was part of a team or a process that was trying to do some good.”
Bulluck found that opportunity with the SEP, part of the PEARLS (Program in Early Autism Research, Leadership and Service) program. Researchers at the SEP examine the development, functional impact, and cause of various sensory features in children with autism, developmental delay, and/or typical development.
Through the SEP, Bulluck has enjoyed contributing to a variety of endeavors, including the development of experimental models as part of the innovative use of eye-tracking tools and the design of video enabled assessment labs with full capture and multi-angle and split-screen functions. He also works with various software and programming languages, such as SAS, MatLab, SQL, and, most recently, SharePoint programming to help create a grant pre-submission mechanism for the DAHS.
Grappling with data security issues takes up a good deal of Bulluck’s time and attention. He partners with the School of Medicine’s Office of Information Systems to help ensure SEP and DAHS researchers are adhering to protocols for data collection, storage, and sharing. Once an afterthought in the research process, Bulluck says security compliance and the resources needed to maintain this compliance are now something that must be considered at the earliest stages of any project.
“Most of the risks are the same as they have always been; we’re just more aware of it now, and doing more to prevent problems before they happen,” he said.
While his new role with the DAHS-OOR has meant a challenging expansion in the breadth of his work, especially since only 20 percent of his time is available for that purpose, Bulluck said he is optimistic about the OOR’s continued evolution and enjoys interacting with an even broader range of faculty.
“Day-to-day, I like working with the different people in the various divisions and learning about things I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to,” he said. “I really like being able to solve a problem that researchers are having. Even though it’s a small piece of the whole picture, it feels good to contribute.”
When he’s not working at UNC, Bulluck likes playing tennis, hitting the beach, and spending time with family and friends.
-Story by Katherine Pearl