New NORDP Board Member Cameo: Joanna Downer

Joanna Downer is one of two new elected NORDP Board Members in 2019. We thank Joanna for her service to NORDP!

Who: Joanna Downer, Ph.D. – Associate Dean for Research Development
Where: Duke University School of Medicine, Research Development Office
Number of Years in RD: 10
Length of NORDP Membership: 8 years

When and how did you enter the field? What kind of RD work do you do?


I entered RD in the spring 2009 to help the institution respond to the federal stimulus package, otherwise known as “ARRA”. Funded by Congress to keep the economy moving after the economic downturn of 2008, the stimulus package included a lot of funding for NIH and “shovel ready” projects. After working on three construction grant applications that spring and summer, the School invited me to start an effort to facilitate development of complex research grants. At first RD activities were on top of my other responsibilities, but over time I negotiated an exclusive focus on RD. The office has since grown to 5 FTEs, including myself.

Our primary charge is still facilitating development of complex research grants (providing project management, expert guidance, critical review, comprehensive edits, and compilation, among other services). We complement this effort through direct support for a small number of individual investigators and by offering training sessions through existing programs for faculty and grant managers. As a School of Medicine, our portfolio is largely NIH, but over the past year a colleague has proactively enhanced faculty awareness of DOD and NSF opportunities, and so applications to other sponsors are increasing.

What’s your history with NORDP? How have you engaged with the organization (committee work, conferences attended/presented)?

I joined NORDP in 2010 after learning about it through a Duke colleague at the time, Rick Tysor. However, I wasn’t able to attend a conference until 2015, when the timing was moved to late April/early May and – finally – away from the NIH deadline for P-type grants. I happened to be part of a panel that first year, after responding to a request on the listserv from Eva Allen of Indiana University Bloomington for co-presenters on teaching faculty to write. Working on a presentation with other NORDP members in advance of the meeting allowed me to start making connections early, and the camaraderie of everyone at the meeting sealed my fate – I found the conference to be so engaging and invigorating that I committed to bringing my whole team every year, a request the School agreed to. I’ve presented at each Conference since then, which I find to be a great way to both contribute my knowledge to the RD community and gain insights from others, through development of panel presentations and through discussions at and after the sessions. I also have hosted a networking dinner each year except 2019 – my topic of choice was always “work-life balance.”

Since 2016, I’ve also been involved in committee work, joining and then quickly volunteering to co-chair the Professional Development Committee. Last year I also joined the Strategic Alliances Committee as a member of its Training Working Group and as the liaison to the National Association of Science Writers. This year, I was honored to be among NORDP’s Rising Star awardees.

What relationships have you built as a result of NORDP (new colleagues, connections to institutions where you previously had no point of contact)?

Joining NORDP and attending NORDP conferences has been my principal avenue for meeting others engaged in RD outside of Duke, and I’ve found the listserv and conferences to be invaluable. The only downside I can detect at this point is that now that I’ve made so many friends and contacts through NORDP, it can be hard to find time to meet new people for time spent catching up with folks I’ve met in years past! One way I’ve tried to carve out time to meet new people – even if just in passing – is volunteering for the registration desk at the conference.

What inspired you to run for a position and serve on the NORDP board?

I feel at “home” in NORDP and I’m eager to give back, to help shape the organization’s next 10 years, and to make sure others feel as welcome as I did.

What are you most excited about as a board member?

I understand the organization is taking part in a strategic planning process over the coming year, and I very much look forward to participating in that process. I’m also very excited about advocating for new professional development opportunities that the Professional Development Committee and others will be working toward in the coming year, including enhanced online and electronic learning opportunities and a full roll-out of the “NROAD to RD” training program framework that Samarpita Sengupta of University of Texas Southwestern is leading. These expanded resources are also likely to help drive re-design of the NORDP website, and so I look forward to being at least familiar with those efforts.

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.

%d bloggers like this: