Not Your Typical Derby Girl, Featuring Allie B. Back

We all know the Charm City Roller Girls roller derby league is made up of dedicated athletes, but what you don’t see on the track is how intelligent, talented and accomplished our skaters are outside their favorite sport. Get to know this league and you’ll quickly see there’s no such thing as a “typical derby girl.” For example, Allie B. Back, co-captain of Speed Regime, is a leader not only on the track but also in medical research. Here, Allie tells us all about her love of science, her career in research, and how she found her way to roller derby.

What’s your job title?
Research Program Manager at Johns Hopkins University, Dept. of Infection Control

Tell us about what you do.
I setup and manage multiple research studies for our group, including a multi-center study on influenza with sites across the US, a Phase III investigational drug clinical trial, a multi-center chart review study on c. difficile, etc. I am responsible for submitting relevant grant applications, Institutional Review Board applications and renewals, and budgeting for both the research studies and my Principal Investigator’s accounts. I train and directly supervise three full-time Research Assistants and at least two part-time student Research Assistants.

Why did you decide to pursue this job? Who or what inspired you?
I have always loved science and did my undergraduate studies in Theoretical Physics. Unfortunately, when I graduated there were no open positions for a lab tech in Physics (it appears to be a tough field to get into right out of college) so I began applying for anything science-related that was relatively close to me. I was living in Delaware and working in PA at the time. I lucked into a position at Hopkins fairly quickly and, in the process, discovered that I had a knack and interest in not just performing lab duties but actually managing grant applications, journal articles, and the research activities. I moved around to different departments, realizing that research management is always the same even if the research subject changes. This is great because I can stay at Hopkins and never get bored! I have worked in otolaryngology, neurology, OB/GYN, and now in infection control. My favorites have probably been neurology and my current position because I can see how universally important and immediately relevant the research is in these two fields in particular.

What challenges do you face in your work life, and how do you deal with them?
One of the biggest challenges in research, especially research that spans multiple sites/locations is communication. You need to communicate early, often, and repeatedly for things to get done. It can be frustrating to coordinate everyone’s schedules for a call, but the payoff is great when you can make decisions in that 1 hour on the phone with the whole team that could take months of back-and-forth via email otherwise. side from that, research always faces challenges in recruitment of participants and maintaining funding. Hopkins (as I imagine most university research institutions) offer a number of courses to help train you in various ways to overcome these challenges and I highly recommend taking them whenever you have the opportunity.

Why did you decide to start playing roller derby?
I found out about roller derby through a friend that had watched a Gotham (NYC) bout and thought I would be interested. At the time, I was recovering from a difficult breakup and didn’t know anyone in Baltimore, so I was definitely looking for an outlet and way to make new friends. As I watched my 1st CCRG bout, I found myself twitching in my seat, wanting to be out there on the track with those girls. I immediately signed up for the Skater Tot group (women interested in trying out). However, I am very shy and I sat for 20 minutes in my car during the 1st “meet up” of Tots at a local Skateland; I couldn’t believe I was scared to walk into a roller rink! I am so extremely glad that I forced myself to do it though because I could never have imagined how great an impact this journey would have on my life. These skaters are my family and have helped me through both tough and amazingly great times. Plus this whole roller derby thing is freaking awesome fun!

Tell us about your derby career so far.
I joined CCRG in 2008 and got seriously injured (requiring surgery) in my first scrimmage in 2009. But I came back with a vengeance and even made it on the All-Stars my first tryout. I have played off-and-on (due to additional injuries) since then. I was drafted by Speed Regime who had given me a place while recouping from my first injury (by helping bench manage) and will always have a stronghold on my heart. TerrorIzHer and I have been the Captains of Regime since 2010. This year, I decided to step down from the All-Stars to focus on my education (finished an MLA), career, and home-life (bought a house). I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with CCRG’s B-team, Female Trouble, this year.

What words of encouragement would you give to a female considering your career?
There is a trade-off in university-associated medical research, which tends to be salary. You will never make a ton of money at this unless you go into private for-profit sectors of research (think pharmaceutical companies). That said, you will be on the cutting edge of research that makes a difference in people’s lives and that can be more rewarding than any paycheck (as long as you make enough to pay the bills, which I do). Management skills of all types are critical: time management, project management, people management. You can do a crash course in any topic to learn enough of the science to do your job, but you have to have that innate knack for organization to do well. As a woman in the medical field, I do occasionally experience a bias towards males but I have been lucky to be mentored by some strong female bosses. Find a female mentor as soon as possible to help you navigate and teach you the ropes, and you’ll get far.

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