Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the NORDP Pillars But Were Afraid to Ask

#NORDP2017 starts Monday, May 8 in Denver, CO. Keep checking back here at the blog and on our Twitter feed (@NORDP_official) for live conference updates. Register here: http://www.nordp.org/conferences.

You won’t find the NORDP Pillars on the schedule-at-a-glance posted to the conference website, because we wanted to keep it lean and clean. But last year in Orlando, we rolled out a new concept for NORDP programming—the “Research Development Pillars,” as NORDP Past President Rachel Dresbeck called them in her welcome letter. As you’ll see when you get your bag at the registration desk in Denver and pull out the conference schedule book, we’re putting those pillars to a much more focused use this year.

Basically, the NORDP Pillars are like subject headings (top-level subject headings, for the librarians among us), or subject tracks. They provide a convenient way of grouping together content that involves common themes. It’s our hope that these headings will also help conference attendees find content that’s relevant to them and their interests and needs as they’re building their careers and expanding their professional horizons.

From a practical standpoint, using the pillars is a little bit like browsing the shelves in your local library. You looked up the exact book you wanted, and got a call number to tell you where to find it. But because call numbers also work a little bit like subject classifications, when you look to either side of the book you wanted originally (or a shelf or two up or down from that location), you find other books on the same general topic that you didn’t even know had been written. (To this day, I continue to find great resources I wouldn’t have known to look for just by reading the shelves around the one where I found the book I did go hunting for. One of many, many reasons why I love libraries. But I digress.)

There are four NORDP Pillars, and in what follows, I’m going to give a short description of each of them. I hope this will be helpful to you as we start using them more and more consistently to identify and track the content that NORDP provides to its members. (And if you have thoughts, questions, or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below, or to email me.)

The first pillar is RD Fundamentals, and it’s the one that most people are likely to think they understand right away: it’s all the stuff you need to know when you’re brand-new to research development.

Well, yes…and most definitely no. Yes, information and presentations grouped under this pillar are fundamental: anybody working in RD needs to have this at their fingertips.

But “fundamental” should not be confused with “basic” or “introductory.” Everything that someone new to RD would need to know in order to be effective in her job would be under this pillar—but not everything under this pillar is something that a brand-new RD professional either needs to know at that particular moment in his career, or even something that would necessarily make sense to him until he’d been working in the field for a year or two.

Information that is fundamental, but which may have limited scope or application, can also be grouped under the RD Fundamentals pillar. Some of us, for example, may work primarily or exclusively on center proposals, while for others, that may be a task that comes up only once or twice—or not at all. Limited submissions are another example of this kind of work: we run dozens of these each year at the University of Colorado, but for folks at a small research center with just a few active researchers, they might never need to run one.

Nevertheless, it’s good information to have available, because you can always file off the serial numbers and adapt something useful to a new context that is part of your daily responsibilities. You could, for example, take some of the work about how to build a cohesive theme for a research center (and select appropriate researchers or scholars to complement that theme) and apply it to building an interdisciplinary team for any kind of a collaborative proposal. Or you might adapt some processes from how to run a successful limited submission competition and use that as a starting point for your proposal process if you’re responsible for distributing seed funds.

The next pillar is LDRD, which stands for “Leadership Development in Research Development.” Once you know what the acronym refers to, this one is fairly self-explanatory. Under this pillar you’ll find all the things you’ll need to know as you begin to think about where you might like to go during your career in research development (and I’m not just talking about where the next NORDP conference will be located). If you’re beginning to make the transition from a line staffer to a manager or a strategist, this is the pillar to look for on ways to make that transition smoother.

But we’re defining “leadership” very broadly in deciding what fits under this pillar. Yes, of course, this is where you’ll find presentations on being an effective leader—from above or below. This is also where we’ll talk about mentoring and the many things mentors (and their mentees) can do to enhance these important relationships. There are presentations under this pillar on different ways to structure an RD office in response to all of the factors that play into such decisions—and on how to make an effective case to your institutional leadership that such an office is necessary in the first place. Lastly, this is also the place where we’ll put all the tips and best practices information about taking care of ourselves as RD professionals—combating burn-out, keeping fresh and up-to-date on the latest trends and issues in the profession.

Speaking of the latest trends and issues, the third pillar is Hot Topics. This pillar covers both the newest of the new, but also the perennial (and sometimes contentious) topics that everybody in the field talks about. (Metrics is one good example, as is social media, or crowdfunding.) Think of these as burning questions—they’re hot because either there’s a lot of talk and hype around them, or they’re the beacons that light our way as we try to navigate through changing times and uncertain futures.

The fourth pillar is one that we didn’t get to use much in this year’s program, but we hope to be able to increase its prominence in years to come, and that’s Funders. This pillar is everything to do with sponsors—not the fine people and organizations that sponsor our organization and its conference every year, but the people who give the people we work with the money to do the amazing things they’ve put their hearts and souls into coming up with while we help them position those ideas and craft superior proposals to attract those funds. These sessions can be updates from a sponsor about new policy changes or grant opportunities that are coming down the pike, or about how to write an outstanding proposal for a certain funding opportunity or program, talking to program officers, making inquiries with private foundations—all that and more. In some cases, there might be overlap with information under this pillar and RD Fundamentals (everybody’s probably going to help with a few CAREER proposals over their careers, right?), but there’s also at least some component of sponsor-specific information that makes this tag appropriate as well.

Conference Marketing Committee


We hope to see you at the 2017 NORDP Research Development Conference, which will be held May 8-10 in Denver, CO. For more information about the conference program or to register, visit http://www.nordp.org/conferences. Follow @NORDP_official on Twitter for all the latest #NORDP2017 updates.

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