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Stem Cell Research

Careers in Science From the Field

R. Alta Charo is the Elizabeth S. Wilson - Bascom Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she is on the faculty of the Law School and the Medical School's Department of Medical History and Bioethics. She offers courses on health law, bioethics and biotechnology law, food & drug law, medical ethics, reproductive rights, torts, and legislative drafting. In addition, she has served on the UW Hospital Clinical Ethics Committee, the University's Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects in medical research, and the University's Bioethics Advisory Committee. She has also been a visiting professor at law and medical schools in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, and New Zealand.

What is/are your profession(s)?

I am a Professor of Law and Bioethics with joint appointment to both the law and medical schools. In addition, I am the Associate Dean of the Law School.

What are the responsibilities of your profession(s)?

My work involves teaching, research, and service.

Can you describe a typical week at work?

There is no such thing as typical for me. I will usually be teaching one or two different courses, as well as working on one or two articles or government reports, plus participating in departmental or campus committees on topics ranging from faculty hiring to conflict of interest rules for researchers.

What do you find to be the most and least enjoyable aspects of your work?

The most enjoyable is the opportunity to teach and do research and public service. The least enjoyable is the struggle, as in all public institutions, to do one's work without the generous resources often found in private sector settings.

What kinds of skills do you need for your line of work?

I apply analytical and organizational skills for the research, and interpersonal skills for teaching and service.

How did you become interested in bioethics and reproductive rights?

I began as a biology major in college and slowly concluded that I was more interested in biology and social policy than in biology by itself.

What are the most heated debates or controversial topics in the areas of bioethics and reproductive rights?

There is great controversy over parental autonomy versus state control in decisions concerning whether, when, and how to have children.

For students who are interested in working with the legal and ethical aspects of biotechnology in their future careers, what kind of experience, paid or unpaid, should they start to acquire now?

There is no career track, so do the things you love and that offer you a chance to learn new skills or make new contacts. The rest will fall into place.

Any other advice that you would give to someone who is interested in a career in bioethics or reproductive rights?

Obtain a broad education in science, history, philosophy, political science, and international studies.

Submitted by: Kyle Gracey, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2003 Fall Intern