The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Gaelle F. Kolb

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.

Gaelle F. Kolb, Proposal Development Manager, Office of Research Development, Division of Research, University of Maryland

Describe your work in research development (RD): I am currently a proposal development manager in the Office of Research Development within the Division of Research at the University of Maryland. I am responsible for managing multidisciplinary teams of scientists and leading them to submit highly prestigious, multi-million dollars grants to various sponsors. The teams vary with the open calls and so do the represented disciplines.

Describe your postdoc work: My scientific background is in infectious diseases. During my first postdoc, I investigated the role of a host protein in waking up Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 from latency in infected neurons. The work was seminal in demonstrating that, in fact, a host protein was indispensable for that event to start, and another postdoc demonstrated that it recruited a whole complex of proteins to re-activate the viral transcription. In a shorter second postdoc, I identified a Heat Shock protein as binding to Ebola Virus genome, and in a later publication on which I am a collaborative author, the team demonstrated that this protein was indispensable to viral replication, making it a potential drug target.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: I was very involved in professional and career development during my postdoc, helping other postdocs (and myself) find the career of their dream. I became the grants and training development specialist in one of the NIH institutes, which totally opened up my love for proposal development and helping others better write how much their science would impact our society.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provided to your skill set related to RD: I was a restless postdoc, always getting involved in “other/administrative” internships. I became a great listener and talker as well.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? As a postdoc, you have cultivated the passion for science. Now, keep the breadth and forget about the depth.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Moving to my current position has been the best experience in research development. Before that, I felt that I was only allowed to dabble, expressing other people’s way of doing. Now, I become part of the team every time I support a new proposal development. I am learning about their subject matter so I can provide critical feedback to their proposed research. I continue to read everything about science (I am member of the AAAS, reader of Science magazine, reader of Nature and The Scientist, in addition to NSF and NIH news).

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? Well, I like the fact that I don’t have to drill too deep into one subject anymore; instead, I can dream big with a team, and differently as I move on to the next team. I like the fast pace and flexible hours. I don’t mind taking on a few hours of work at night or on weekends provided that I can work flexibly otherwise.

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? Be patient and nurture your professional network. Be professional and always give the best of yourself, which is why I feel I was offered my current position!

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