The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Kathryn Partlow

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.

Partlow
Kathryn Partlow, Senior Proposal Development Coordinator, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Describe your work in RD: I’ve worked in RD for almost 6 years. I recently advanced from being an entry-level specialist to a senior-level coordinator. My role in brief is to support proposal development for early-career and tenured faculty with research interests spanning engineering, life and social sciences. This includes refining project ideas, finding collaborators, identifying funding opportunities, and ensuring timely submission of a competitive proposal. When developing the proposal, I work to present the proposed research in a way that is logical and easily understood by reviewers, including development of the storyline or schematics. I also ensure the proposal meets the evaluation criteria, funding agency priorities, and other requirements such as broader impacts.

Describe your postdoc work: I developed a passion for research during a summer internship at a pharmaceutical company and went on to earn a PhD in molecular cell biology. My postdoc experience involved the development and characterization of novel drugs for cancer.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: While conducting cancer research during my graduate and postdoctoral training, I always gravitated toward interdisciplinary research and enjoyed communicating with people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. During this time, I became passionate about facilitating interdisciplinary research. I believe bringing researchers together from diverse disciplines and backgrounds is the only way to address some of society’s greatest challenges. Often times, developing a proposal for a funding opportunity can be the nucleus that brings these teams together.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: For success in research development, it definitely helps to have a strong background in science and research. One of the most rewarding experiences during my postdoctoral time was mentoring the undergraduate and graduate students within the lab. I enjoyed sharing my experiences, challenging students to think outside the box, assisting them in coming to conclusions on their own, and aiding in their development as scientists. These same skills definitely help when working with early-career faculty and teams.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? During my postdoc, I did some informational interviews with NORDP members, which was beneficial. I also attended an annual NORDP meeting before starting my job in research development, which was a great way to be introduced to the field. I found research to be consuming and struggled with work-life balance. Although I still work hard, the one degree of separation and the fact that you can work from anywhere has been good for me.

 What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? I find helping teams become greater than the sum of their parts extremely rewarding. I also really enjoy working with early-career faculty. I was surprised with how much I enjoy working across disciplines, including with the social sciences. When you’re doing your own research, you are so focused and don’t realize you have a limited view. I am a better-rounded person now and have greatly expanded my scientific knowledge and expertise.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? I’ve found research development to be a rewarding career that builds upon my experience and training. I also feel like I’m able to use my skills more fully in research development than if I had taken a research path. Working at a higher level within the research enterprise enables you to make a bigger impact.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee

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