The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Courtney Hunt

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.

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

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