The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.
Samarpita Sengupta, Scientific Research Writer, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Describe your work in research development (RD): In 2015, I became the Scientific Research Writer in the newly created Neuroscience Research Development (NeRD) Office in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherpeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. I help PIs, fellows, clinical and basic science researchers, and nurses maneuver the grant application process. I help with funding identification, idea generation, proposal development, document generation, and grant submission to funding agencies. I also contribute to the process of creation of manuscripts and their submission to peer reviewed journals. I work with PIs in the department as well as its affiliated centers such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Neuroscience Nursing Research Center. I am the Director of the NeRD-Associate in training (NeAT) program, Co-director of the faculty professional development series, member of the neurology research committee, and Director of the manuscript workshop at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Describe your postdoc work: My first postdoctoral work was in the Departments of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX. I worked on identifying novel pathway components of the pheromone sensing pathway using Drosophila as a model system and a large scale forward genetic screen and electrophysiology. After my postdoc mentor ran out of funding, I did a second shorter postdoc in the Department of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Here, I worked on understanding the signaling mechanisms in the antiphospholipid syndrome that result in pregnancy complications and miscarriages. Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes vascular thrombosis and pregnancy loss. I also worked on applying a novel method to specifically label in vivo and study the transcriptome of endothelial cells. Further, I worked on understanding the mechanism of diabetic complications in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Describe your transition from postdoc/research background to RD: During my first postdoc, I realized my scientific passions were beyond the bench. I discovered an interest in scientific writing and started actively networking for science writing jobs. I had an informational interview with Charlene Supnet, PhD, current director of the NeRD Office. I inquired about her job and it struck me as something I would like to do. I kept in touch with her, and several months after the initial informational interview (during which time I transitioned to another postdoc position), she contacted me after a position opened up in her newly established NeRD office. After an interview with her, the Research Programs Manger of Neurology, and three faculty members in the department, I was hired for the position.
Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: This job requires me to understand both the scientific and administrative components of a grant proposal development and submission. Being a scientist and having a PhD helps me understand the science. I also wrote research grants and edited my PI’s grants while in grad school and as a postdoc. This experience helps me with constructively critiquing the proposal from an outsider’s point of view, while still being knowledgeable about the science. Having been an active member of the Graduate Student Organization and the Quest for Career group at UT Southwestern gave me extensive experience on managing projects and people. I attained several transferrable skills such as project management, effective time management, leadership, communication skills, ability to speak different “languages” and so on during graduate and postdoc training.
What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider a career in RD?
- Find an RD professional in your area; a list can be found on the NORDP website (http://www.nordp.org/nordp-regions).
- Set up an informational interview. RD is a complex field, with several job titles and descriptions. You might find something you like once you talk to people about it!
- Tons of other resources on NORDP website (http://www.nordp.org/resources), the NORDP job board, and the NORDP blog.
- Grant writing workshops can double as career planning sessions for interested postdocs, graduate students. Attend or organize those; local RD professionals can help!
- Consider doing an internship/shadowing RD personnel to gain expertise. We offer a four-week training program to give people a glimpse of RD as a career.
What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? I love the satisfaction of being in academia and having a pulse on the latest scientific discoveries, being part of scientific teams, of the idea creation and development portions. I love to teach people about how to write, guide them through a grant/manuscript writing process, and help make it less daunting for newbies. I love the freedom to create my own job description, finding areas of improvement and improving them. I love the satisfaction of project completion and that this job provides me the opportunity to have a healthy work-life balance.
Why do you think RD is a good career choice? RD makes good use of transferrable skills. You get to be actively engaged in the scientific process, ensuring funding for cutting-edge research, building competitive teams, and having a finger on the scientific pulse of the institution. The best RD professionals are master jugglers of scientific fields and carry a strong understanding of the scientific method. Therefore, they can easily take on the role of a central resource within an institution and assist faculty with a very diverse set of interests. An increasing number of institutions, ranging in size and expertise are creating offices of research and looking for people with scientific training to fill positions within these offices.
What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? RD as a career is often overlooked, but there is a large need for it. However, from conducting the NeAT program, we have found that not everyone has the aptitude to have a career in RD. It is a “service” industry and has the usual pitfalls of such an industry. However, it is not a job; it is a career.
Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee