NORDP 2014 Conference Notes: Presidents’ Chat

Panelists:  Alicia Knoedler, NORDP President; David Stone, NORDP President Elect; Ann McGuigan, NORDP Immediate Past President

This conference session was guided by audience questions and comments, resulting in a lively and wide-ranging session.

Regional NORDP groups: 

An audience member asked about regional NORDP groups and the presenters noted the NORDP NE group. All agreed that regional groups can be useful but volunteers are needed to run the groups and meetings can be difficult even within a compact region. The presenters suggested looking at NCURA’s regional structure. Ann noted that, as someone who has recently moved, she can see the value in regional groups.

EPPD coordinates the NORDP mentoring program, which may consider regional ties as requested by participants.  It might also be useful to provide a model for using NORDP membership lists for new members, i.e. people new to NORDP visit and review the membership list, then contact people.

The recent email traffic about bylaws and membership

Alicia noted that adoption of Bylaws does not require membership feedback. Nevertheless, the Board is developing a mechanism to allow members’ comments on policies and procedures. On the question of the difference between membership for individual consultants versus individuals working for larger consulting firms, the Board has adopted the ACA definition for the right cut-off between small and large firms. For-profit organizations with 25 or more employees will be affiliates. Firms with 25 or fewer employees will be a regular member. On the question of other models, such as one from NCURA, David and Ann said the Board was looking for a national standard and a more inclusive definition.

Professional development

Following from the general session on research development and future research leaders, discussion moved to the topic of professional development in RD.  For example, Notre Dame has a ‘Professional Specialists’ category for individuals not on the tenure track, while an audience member noted that at UW-Milwaukee, indefinite status (a kind of academic staff equivalent of tenure) may be attached to some positions. With regard to professional development for non-faculty administrative positions, Alicia noted that the institutional culture matters. Ann noted that RD professionals interact with many other groups and people, e.g., federal relations, communications, etc., which may provide other paths to professional development and career trajectories. There are also research development career opportunities outside of the academy; rather than working only in the ivory tower, it’s possible to engage with agencies that engage with the ivory tower. Panel members suggested that, as a profession, we think broadly about RD and how to engage, promote, and facilitate it.

They also discussed the importance of educating the broader research community about RD; members should work to write for publication, participate in conferences, and utilize open source venues, etc., to establish NORDP’s role.  NORDP could provide the structure for open-source publication and outreach. One example was given of a former VPR who is now VP for Economic Development; this change points to development of a new pillar at universities to engage industry, thus helping to connect research and economic activities. Industries often lack understanding of federal agencies and universities.

The conversation moved to evaluation of RD offices. NORDP recently did an evaluation of the UC Merced RD office. As a new institution, Merced wanted a review of their program. A staff member was hired in 2008 and the review happened in 2010. Two NORDP members conducted the evaluation, meeting with the VPR, deans, heads of research institutes, faculty, and the president. NCURA also did a review of the sponsored projects office.  The reports of both evaluation reports were made public. Although the reviews were different, they were complementary, outlining a clear path for growth of the offices. In the case of the RD office, staff has been increased from two to six.  In addition, based on the UC system analysis of research activity, UC-Merced showed a 57.5% increase from last fiscal year, which the director attributed in part of the peer review process. She concluded that having a peer review of the campus RD is valuable to the overall professional development of the office and the campus.

Another topic focused on what can we do to increase industry engagement. One suggestion was to work more closely with CFR and Technology Transfer staff. CFR staff do not necessarily discuss how to engage with industry and Technology Transfer may not think as broadly about RD; each also has different cultures.  It can be very informative to work with them.

Other suggestions for improving professional development processes included:

  • Adding elements to the membership survey, gathering information about individuals’ past experience and expertise in non-profit, for profit, and government sectors and explore ways to leverage the vast range of experience we know exists in our membership.
  • Develop career tracks/paths to help members envision ways to move through their careers.
  • Develop some kind of mechanism for taking stock of the expertise we have and articulating what we can do.

Overall, the point of the job is not to be boxed in and restricted.  Part of developing as a profession is explaining what RD is not is as important as explaining what it is. Looking at how other professions have developed over time, for example HR over the last 25+ years, may help us imagine development of both the field and individuals.

A related question was then raised: How do we recruit people to the RD field? One audience member mentioned her experience as a post-doc in RD; panelists suggested she write an article about that experience. Some universities do have similar post-docs; it was suggested that we try to identify where these exist, and how they are structured.  This could then be presented as part of next year’s conference, as one model for RD career development.  It was also suggested that stronger career and professional development sessions could be incorporated into the annual conferences.

Another focus was on refinement of mentoring in RD.  In addition to the traditional mentoring model, suggestions were for more across sector mentoring, such as academia and government.  The mentoring program also needs more volunteers to fulfill the requests made each year and the idea of mentoring may need to be broadened from the model of expert and novice to one of interaction of equals who bring new perspectives and “fresh eyes” to issues and situations. It may make sense to rename the mentoring program to reinforce this idea; the term may actually limit membership participation, particularly if members think they need to have extensive formal RD work experience.

Notes by Kari E Whittenberger-Keith.

Thank you, Kari!

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Author: Julie Rogers

Research Development Associate, Oregon Health & Science University

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