The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Christina Papke

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.

Papke
Christina Papke, Research Development Officer, Texas A&M University

Describe your work in research development (RD): I have been in research development for 2.5 years. I provide proposal assistance and critiques to individual faculty members (mainly for NIH proposals, but I have provided assistance on proposals for a few other life science foundations, also). I also facilitate faculty writing groups, meet one-on-one with faculty to discuss their proposals, and give seminars across campus as needed. Our office also facilitates review of larger proposals and brings in an outside consultant to give a 1.5-day seminar on grant writing.

Describe your postdoc work: : During my first postdoc, I focused on the cell biology of aortic aneurysms. I used mice deficient in alpha-actin, a protein critical for proper blood vessel contraction, to help identify some cellular pathways that are disrupted during aortic disease progression. During my second postdoc, I studied on the extracellular matrix biology of thoracic aortic aneurysms. Using mice deficient in fibulin-4, an important extracellular matrix protein in the vasculature, I determined some effects of fibulin-4 loss on collagen in mouse aortas.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: fibulin-4 loss on collagen in mouse aortas. Two years into my second postdoc, I found out that my research mentor would be moving her lab overseas the following year. My two options were to either start completely over in a new postdoc or find an alternate career. As I thought about all of the things I enjoyed (and disliked) about working as a researcher, I realized that I did not want to pursue a research faculty position. Since I enjoyed writing and editing, and enjoyed putting grant applications together, I joined a professional organization for medical writers and began exploring writing and editing careers. Through that organization, I met someone involved in grant writing and learned about research development as a career option. I discovered that it matched very well with my skills and interests. The same individual knew about a research development job opening at Texas A&M University, which ended up being an excellent match.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Most importantly, my postdoc work provided me with a solid background in biomedical research and allowed me to apply for and successfully obtain an F32 postdoctoral fellowship. Since many sections of the F32 are similar to the grants that faculty apply for, I was able to gain valuable grant-writing experience. Additionally, networking with faculty at research conferences gave me some of the skills I need for interacting well with faculty members in my current position. Also, I had the opportunity to serve on postdoctoral association committees. These experiences, along with co-chairing a Gordon Research Seminar, allowed me to gain experience with coordinating events and interacting further with faculty members.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? Find a few people currently in research development. Set up a meeting or phone call and talk with them about their career path, why they chose research development as a career, and what skill sets are necessary to succeed. Talk with multiple people, if possible, to get different perspectives. Research development can look different at large vs. small institutions, or in a departmental RD office vs. a central RD office. Also, consider joining a professional organization, such as the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP)! There are lots of benefits of membership that make it a worthwhile investment in your future career, including a mentoring program, and access to other mentoring resources on the NORDP website, and  access to a listserv, where you’ll see conversations about research development-related topics, and an occasional job posting. Additionally, whether or not you choose to join NORDP, I would encourage anyone considering RD as a career to subscribe to the NORDP blog at www.nordpnews.org. You can subscribe regardless of whether you are a NORDP member.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Choosing just one good experience is difficult, because I have enjoyed many aspects of my work. I always enjoy hearing from faculty members that they found my critique of their grant application helpful, and I am excited to hear whenever someone I assisted received funding!

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? Research development is an excellent career choice for those who wish to remain somewhat connected to the faculty and research and who enjoy putting grants together but don’t want to be directly involved with doing bench work. Research development is also a service-oriented profession. If you enjoy interacting with faculty members, seeing a broad variety of research topics rather than just a narrowly focused set of topics, and helping contribute to the success of researchers, research development may be a good career choice for you.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee

 

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