NORDP 2018 Conference Notes: Practical Strategies for Facilitating Innovative Research

Practical Strategies for Facilitating Innovative Research


  • Donnalyn Roxey, Knowinnovation
  • Andy Burnett, Knowinnovation

Thanks to our session scribe, Jennifer Huntington, University of Michigan!

Key points from the session. We learned:

  • Knowinnovation designed the “Ideas Lab” – a multi-day program to develop ideas among faculty members with different areas of expertise to create a proposal for funding.
  • Creativity was defined as the production of novel and useful thinking. Everyone is creative in different ways that leads to innovation.
  • Tools to use with faculty in order to foster ideation that will get researchers to truly collaborate and think beyond their own ideas of what is important.
  • Clear link between Research Development professionals and their ability to use their skills creatively to foster innovative research. RD professionals are not just the implementation piece.
  • During the session, there were two points at which the audience was asked to speak with someone sitting next to them about 1. Where each person could use more creative methods in RD, and 2. What have you seen work well in that space? This was a great way to develop connections with colleagues and share ideas.

What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?

It was surprising to have the session be based around the idea of creativity and how we can foster that first in ourselves and understand that we are all creative in different ways. That really helped tie into the proposed strategies for fostering innovative research. It surprised me how willing Knowinnovation was to share some of their methodology for us to immediately utilize at our home institutions.

What resources did you discover at this presentation?

Two models were shared: Web of Abstraction – how to define the “problem” or really understand what the problem is.  PPCO – how to focus on the values of different ideas to stop the “that’s a terrible idea” mindset. PPCO evaluates an idea starting with the Pluses, the Potentials, the Concerns, and lastly, how to Overcome some of the Concerns (when possible). The presenter did state that she was willing to share any other resources around Knowinnovation’s methods.

What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenter(s)’ response?

One question was asked about ideal group size for ideation workshops. Another participant asked how to get faculty to attend the workshops. The presenter responded that the ideal size is less than 10, and that the “sweet spot” is a group of 7-8 people. That then tied into clarifying that a successful workshop of this type is NOT based on attendance/size, so getting faculty to “show up” is not actually the program’s goal. It becomes rather difficult to effectively ideate around innovative concepts when there isn’t an ability to narrow the focus enough. The end goal of these workshops is to have a handful of faculty come out with a great proposal concept for funding.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?

If you sign-up for the Knowinnovation blog, they periodically post about the work they are doing, including methodologies and other helpful tips. They offer many services, including: workshops, virtual events, lunchtime talks, 3-day proposal building sessions, and ideas labs.

NORDP 2018 Conference Notes: Responding RAPIDly and Remaining NIIMBL in the Manufacturing USA Proposal Development Landscape

Responding RAPIDly and Remaining NIIMBL in the Manufacturing USA Proposal Development Landscape: Adapting Resources in a Changing Research Landscape


  • Leigh Botner, University of Delaware
  • Kathleen Sanford, University of Delaware
  • Dawn Jory, University of Delaware

Thanks to our session scribe, Kristyn Jewell, Purdue University!

Key points from the session. We learned:

  • Team learned from their initial failure with Accelerate America NNMI submission to succeed with NIIMBL.
  • For NIIMBL, the core scientific team coalesced before the FOA was released.
  • The RD support moved from a college/departmental approach for the failed application to a central integrated approach for the successful application and broke the proposal support team into core functions (Governance & Membership Strategy, Budget Planning, Proposal Writing, etc.).
  • Core proposal team kept working together after the concept paper submission assuming that they would be selected.
  • This experience ultimately changed their structure to encourage large collaboratory efforts with an Associate Vice President for Research hire focused on research development.

What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?

They held workshops across the country to present to potential stakeholders and provided up-to-the-minute changes/updates with voting in order to get industry buy-in with acceptable terms & conditions.

What resources did you discover at this presentation?

Teamwork app for project management.

What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenter(s)’ response?

Q: For the management of the institute, what was the 501(c)3 proposed?

A: It was supposed to be a new 501(c)3 established upon award. However, the award execution needed to happen so quickly before inauguration that it was awarded to UD to give the 501(c)3 time to be established and fully operational before taking over management of the partnership.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?

The proposal RD support staff were chosen for their prior experience and skills level, not based on who had worked with the faculty group in the past. The team was cherry picked to get the best possible results.

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Alexis Nagel

Alexis Nagel, Research Development Strategist, Office of Research Development, Medical University of South Carolina

Describe your work in research development (RD): I help to identify and advertise funding opportunities that are aligned with faculty research interests and institutional priorities. I also work with research interest groups on campus to build long-term strategies for funding. I manage my institution’s annual shared instrumentation (NIH) and research infrastructure improvement (NSF) grant application submissions, and assist with preparation of multi-component program and center proposals. Also, I lead informational sessions and faculty enrichment activities, including a grant writing workshop that I developed.

Describe your postdoc work: I received my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2010. During my first postdoc, I studied the role of metabolic-sensing O-GlcNAc post-translational modifications in bone health and development using mass spectrometry (MS) based techniques. For my second postdoc, I applied MS-based molecular networking approaches to discover and characterize natural product drug leads.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: It was during my second postdoc that I discovered an aptitude for grant writing and proposal management that set the stage for my eventual transition to RD. Toward the end of my first postdoc I began to have doubts about the tenure-track faculty path for a variety of reasons and recognized the need for a career reassessment. I then learned of a newly hired senior faculty member who had relocated to our institution and needed help assembling proposals while reestablishing his lab. Because I was already considering an alternative career path, I was open to dialing back my research responsibilities to accommodate grant preparation activities. Over time I found I enjoyed this role; however, I also understood that I needed to move up and out of my postdoctoral training phase if I was serious about pursuing a different career trajectory. When a position opened up in my institution’s RD office several months later I applied and was hired as a Research Development Officer.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Senior postdocs and early-career faculty members face many challenges while attempting to build funding for their research programs. As someone who traveled down this road for a time, I understand these frustrations and I am attempting to translate lessons learned from these experiences into training opportunities and resources that will serve and support these groups at my institution.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? To be effective in RD you will need to build a diverse set of relationships with faculty and staff members at your institution and possibly other partnering entities and funding agencies. So make sure you like talking to people! In RD, interpersonal skills are probably just as important as writing experience and will serve you well when navigating the political landscape.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Observing the successful outcomes of long-term team funding efforts. When you start at the ground floor with a faculty group and continue to work alongside them the entire way, it is gratifying to see the combined hard work and planning of the team pay off as they reach their funding goals.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? While I am no longer directly involved in academic research, I continue to have a tremendous passion for the sciences and respect for those working within the various fields. After being completely immersed in one subject area for so many years, I now appreciate the “20,000-foot view,” as it were, of the latest science taking place at my institution and across the nation. Additionally, I think if I had pursued a traditional faculty path I would have needed many more years of seniority before I was in a position to give back to the faculty research community through training and education, which is another aspect of this position that I really enjoy.

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? To these postdocs – it is important to keep in mind that your investment in scientific training is not a sunk cost! My guess is that you have many transferrable skills that simply require an adjustment in focus. I would suggest reading current RD position announcements to get a feel for the field, and reaching out to RD professionals either at your institution or through NORDP. Schedule informational interviews and inquire how these individuals came to be in their current role. Then think about how you can re-tailor or otherwise build upon your existing training to ideally position yourself for such a role in the future.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

NORDP 2018 Conference Notes: The Little RD Office That Could: Lessons Learned from RD Program Flops

The Little RD Office That Could: Lessons Learned from RD Program Flops


  • Karen Fletcher, Appalachian State University
  • Katie Howard, Appalachian State University

Thanks to our session scribe, Suzanne Lodato, Indiana University Bloomington!

Key points from the session. We learned:

  • Unsuccessful programming gives you an opportunity to rethink and revise your programming and move forward.
  • If you observe your audience while you are facilitating a program, you will see it is obvious when they are beginning to lose focus. Exercises like stretching breaks can help participants refocus.
  • Sometimes it is more effective to split longer workshops into smaller, more digestible sessions. For example, for finding funding, an overview session can be followed up by a separate hands-on funding database workshop.
  • Often a single session is more effective than a series of multiple sessions, particularly if you can gather some feedback within the single session. Participants tend to drop out of multi-week programs.
  • Workshops that require registration draw much better participation than drop-in workshops.

What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?

  • Appalachian State is a PUI, but is currently recruiting more faculty who are “research intensive.”
  • Most participants who attend a finding funding workshop do not think it works well.
  • A two hour finding funding workshop tends to be ineffective because too much material is presented in one sitting and people lose focus.

What were the most interesting questions asked by audience members, and what was the presenters’ response?

  • For finding funding, some research development professionals encourage faculty to set up profiles before attending a hands-on database session.
  • What didn’t work: one person organized drop-in days for consultations on finding funding that were poorly attended.
  • Appalachian State has a separate office for undergrad research.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?

Here are two grant writing workshop models that worked well:

  • A multi-week program that required a sign-off from the faculty member’s department chair. Participants submitted a white paper to apply for the workshop, and the white papers were judged by means of a competitive process. Faculty had to commit to attending a specified minimum number of sessions. Participants identified a scientific mentor. Staff identified a senior mentor with whom the participant met once a month. Participants were also mentored by staff and peers. Only senior mentors were paid, because they had to meet with participants once per month and report back. Mentoring and accountability to the mentor were the reasons for the success of the program. Participants talked about more than just their current proposal with their mentor, so they developed their career paths, too.
  • Short, internal grant writing workshops 1.5 hours in length. The grant program is reviewed in the session, and participants spend time discussing their proposal ideas to receive feedback. An exercise may encourage participants to write for a very short period of time (e.g., 90 seconds), but they are not required to write during the workshop.




Reminder: 2018 NACRO Annual Conference – Registration ends soon!


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NEW FOR 2018: NORDP members will receive a 25% discount off of conference registration! Contact for details.

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Courtney Hunt

Courtney Hunt, Assistant Director, Center for Drug Discovery, College of Pharmacy, University of Houston

Describe your work in RD: I am currently the Assistant Director, starting up a new research center. I just transferred to this position. Previously, I was in the central Research Development Office in the Division of Research for three years. My current responsibilities include establishing the center recruiting members, developing the research program, educational program, and external outreach; managing the submission of multi-PI and core facility proposals; etc. My former position entailed identifying funding opportunities and matching them to appropriate faculty, running the limited submission program, getting teams together to discuss the potential for large, multi-disciplinary proposal submissions, hosting program officers, hosting or conducting grant writing workshops, etc.

Describe your postdoc work: I did a two-year postdoc at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Along with the expected experimental design, performing experiments, and data analysis, I got involved in a lot of other activities. I mentored summer students and doctoral students in the Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences, was an active member (including a board member) of the Postdoctoral Association, researched and negotiated equipment acquisition, was awarded a PhRMA Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and gave seminars at other departments’ seminar series. I also participated in any career development activity that MDACC offered. My postdoc advisor also went on sabbatical for the second year of my postdoc fellowship, so I operated with a high level of independence.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: My transition was a bit serendipitous. I was looking around and happened upon an interesting job posting at the University of Houston for a Research Liaison Officer. This required a PhD and seemed to fit my skill set and interests quite well. I contacted someone via LinkedIn who previously held the position and got some additional information about what they were really looking for, tailored my application materials accordingly, and prepared thoroughly for the interview.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: My postdoc allowed me to perform with a level of independence that I didn’t have in graduate school, especially with my advisor out of the country and having obtained my own funding. This developed the critical thinking and problem solving that is necessary for a career in research development. It also provided the opportunity to personally talk with faculty members in the department, which is also vital to an RD position. Perhaps equally important are all of the “other” skills that I refined during my postdoc – writing, communication (both email, phone and in person), serving in leadership positions, editing other researcher’s manuscript, abstracts, etc.

What words of wisdom do you have for current postdocs who might consider an RD career? In RD, you will learn a little about all sorts of different research, but it will no longer be YOUR project and you will not be the expert. Make sure you are ready for that. In exchange, you GET to learn about many different disciplines, which is intellectually rewarding. You enter RD because you want to stay close to science and help people be more successful.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Having a faculty member tell me, “I couldn’t have done this without you.” Being awarded a $10 million grant that I spent hours on was a pretty great experience, too!

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? RD enables you to stay tied to cutting-edge research without focusing on the same protein for your entire career. It is intellectually rewarding while also keeping your nights and weekends free. This is a growing field, with more institutions building RD offices, especially with the funding climate shifting to multidisciplinary research.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

NORDP 2018 Conference Notes: Perspectives from Federal Agencies – NEH and IMLS

Perspectives from Federal Agencies – NEH and IMLS


  • Brett Bobley, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Ashley Sands, Institute of Museum and Library Studies

Session Scribe: Paige Belisle, Harvard University

Key points from the session. We learned:

  • Both the NEH and IMLS can fund a wide range of project types. The best way to learn about all of the individual programs offered is to visit the funders’ websites.
  • Both agencies recommend that prospective PIs reach out to a program officer to discuss their proposed projects prior to applying. Program officers can also read proposal drafts.
  • NEH encourages faculty members from outside of the humanities to apply via interdisciplinary projects.
  • IMLS has a broad definition of what constitutes a museum or library – so it’s good to check to see if a PI’s project might fit within this agency by looking at the requirements of the individual programs.
  • Both agencies have an interest in funding projects in the digital humanities and in digital infrastructure.

What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?

Many faculty and research development professionals alike are under the impression that all research projects supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities must result in a scholarly book. However, this is not the case! The NEH supports a wide range of projects, including programs for the public, preservation and access, and the digital humanities.

What resources did you discover at this presentation?

Both of the program officers emphasized that samples of successful proposals are available on their agencies’ respective websites, organized by individual program.

What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenters’ response?

One audience member asked how to advise faculty who wanted program officer feedback after the stated draft deadline had passed. Both program officers suggested such faculty members reach out to their respective program officers directly to ask about sending a draft regardless—this is sometimes a feasible option and can be mutually beneficial.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?

NEH and IMLS staff are available to travel to give outreach presentations at institutions. For NEH/IMLS budgeting purposes, it is helpful to request such a presentation well in advance. The presenters also recommended partnering with other institutions in your region to host a joint event, as having the opportunity to present to multiple/larger groups allows the program officers to justify their budget requests more successfully.