Who: Rachel Dresbeck, Senior Director, OHSU Research Development
Where: Oregon Health & Science University
Number of years in Research Development: 20
Length of NORDP membership: 9 years
When and how did you enter the field? What kind of RD work do you do? I had just finished my PhD in literature and was teaching at a community college in Portland, Oregon. Four tenure-track positions were open in my department, and I couldn’t bring myself to apply to any of them. I love community colleges—they are the most innovative thing about American higher education—but I knew that this wasn’t my path. My dean told me that a research institute at Oregon Health & Science University was looking for a contractor to teach science writing to their trainees. I applied, was hired, and never looked back. I had virtually no science background but my training in philosophy and literature, as well as my teaching many undergraduate sections of composition, served me well—I could decode. I could follow a variable through a process and identify inconsistencies and contradictions. I also had grant writing experience, so that helped. I loved the work—I loved learning about all the molecules and models, the norms of scientific culture, all of it.
In the beginning, I worked freelance on science writing and editing and grant writing, eventually turning it into a small business. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, but having my own business was incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed finding and working with clients across the world and helping them make their dreams come true, whether that was an awarded grant or a successfully defended dissertation or publication in a high-end journal. At that time, my children were small, so I also liked the flexibility. Eventually, though, my children were in school—and OHSU had become my largest client. Using our superior proposal-writing skills, my friend and I persuaded OHSU’s vice president of research that he should create an office for research development. We established that office in 2004, and I have been there ever since. The early focus was on finding funding and proposal development, but now we do many more things: run funding programs, provide strategic advice for investment and programming, serve as a resource for institutional positioning, and much more. I am so appreciative that I foster research at the highest levels of the institution. But I still teach that same science writing class! I love it—it keeps me connected to the daily work of the research.
What’s your history with NORDP? How have you engaged with the organization (committee work, conferences attended/presented)? I first found out about NORDP from a colleague who attended the first Science of Team Science meeting and thought NORDP would be up my alley. I attended the conference in Chicago in 2011 and was very excited to find my tribe. For the first time, I did not have to explain what I did for a living. I have attended every meeting since then, presenting at all of them in some capacity or another. I helped with planning the 2013 conference in Austin. I was recruited by Jacob Levin and Holly Falk-Krzesinski as the conference chair for the 2014 meeting in Portland, joining the board as vice president that year. I served as president in 2015-16 and immediate past president the year after that. In 2017, I ran for a second board term, under the election system that the board had put into place when Dave Stone was president and I was vice president.
I have always been on what is now the Strategic Alliance Committee—it used to be called External Engagement—and involved in NORDP communications. We used to publish an actual printed newsletter that we would carry around to conferences and then eventually recycle. One of my favorite accomplishments was converting the newsletter to the NORDP News blog. Currently, I am co-chair of the Strategic Alliances Committee. I focus much of my time on sponsor relations for the conference (and a shout-out to them: we could not have our great conference without them!) as well as engaging in strategic partnerships with national and international organizations. Our partnership with the Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers has been great for NORDP and also has opened up new areas for me professionally. I highly recommend getting involved in committee work. It’s inherently rewarding and there are personal and career benefits too.
What relationships have you built as a result of NORDP (new colleagues, connections to institutions where you previously had no point of contact)? Some of my most important professional and personal relationships are because of my NORDP work. It’s so much fun to work with smart, talented professionals across the country—and even internationally. Not only is it fun, but it’s also useful to be able to say to your vice president, “Well, my national colleagues do it this way….” It gives you credibility to be well connected and it serves the research and RD missions to show you have best practices and exemplars.
What initiative are you most excited about in your role as a board member? Besides the work I mentioned above, the long-term sustainability of NORDP is most on my mind. Many of us, as RD professionals, are extremely enthusiastic about starting new things. We are always coming up with lots of new activities. We are ideators and planners—that’s why we’re great at proposal development. Right now, I am most excited about strategies for building sustainable systems that can be maintained over the long term with consistency, to kind of balance out the enthusiasm of the idea generation. We are still fairly new as an organization. How do we strategically build for the future, especially in light of pressures on research in the United States? I am also enthusiastic about our focus on inclusive excellence that Gretchen Kiser spearheaded when she was president and has continued to lead.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a NORDP board member? Serving as president made me realize that the Board’s role is stewardship of the organization, and that’s something we all do together. Creating a board that is member-elected was a huge board accomplishment, and I remain excited about this because of the incredible talent it has brought to the organization. Our current board is passionate about serving NORDP members!
Compiled by Daniel Campbell, Member Services Committee.
NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.