NORDP 2015 Conference Report: When Research Development is Just One Part of Your Job Description

By Sarah Pollock-Wisdom, Washington State University

Presenters: Michael Spires (University of Colorado, Boulder) & Kellie Dyslin (Northern Illinois University)

Background of the presenters:  Both presenters have experienced with this topic. Kellie Dyslin has been in research development for fifteen years. Her work in RD began with a nonprofit where she worked to launch projects and find grant opportunities…all without realizing that she was actually participating in research development. Now she works at NIU, where she helps investigators put their best foot forward.  Michael Spires has been in research development for ten years. He spent some time working with the Smithsonian and now works with humanities and social science faculty at UC Boulder.

This session covered four areas:

–          Objectives

–          Definitions

–          Challenges & Opportunities

–          Best Practices

The objectives for the session were that the participants would 1) Gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in the positions that blend research and proposal development. 2) Understand how blended positions are different from separate, full-time research development roles; and 3) Gain tools for enhancing one’s ability to conduct research and proposal development as only one responsibility among many.

The presenters started by defining some of their terms (with help from the audience):

–          Research Development – the bucket of things that happens before we put a proposal together (aka relationship building; identifying community partners; internal seed grants; positioning; helping faculty talk to program officers, etc…)

–          Proposal Development – This narrows down to specific projects.  Often this is where the work starts for most of us with (formatting of bios, C&Ps, COIs, etc…).  Although we might want to help with Research Development (also referred to as the “pre-pre proposal part”), it is typically mentors in the PI’s field that assist in this area. Once you have worked with a PI once or twice, though, they are more likely to come to you for research development assistance.

–          Research Administrator – This person makes sure everything is compliant. They monitor internal & external deadlines. They may help with budgets. Assisting with budgets is a good inroad to getting more involved with research development activities. Most PIs are delighted to hand the budget off to someone else, and once they see your ability to help them, they may be open to more input from you in other areas.

The presenters asked the audience to consider a question: Is our time on the nitty-gritty details (formatting biosketches, checking margins, adding page numbers) really valuable? Although such mundane activities take our time away from the critical area of research development, the presenters argued that the time spend on details is valuable, if only for the fact that then proposals are not returned without review for noncompliance. While it may feel like we format biosketches endlessly, typically we are not working with the same PIs every time; hopefully the PIs learn from the help we give them and grow out of needing our assistance in that area. To alleviate the time spent on these mundane details, one audience member suggested hiring undergraduates to format the bios. Another audience member shared how she keeps a spreadsheet of all she does so that she can show her supervisor and justify her requests for student hires.

Next the presenters discussed the challenges and opportunities to a job that involves more than simply research development. These challenges and opportunities sometimes go hand-in-hand: Continue reading “NORDP 2015 Conference Report: When Research Development is Just One Part of Your Job Description”