NORDP Postdoc Cameo: Robert Lawrence

Members come to NORDP via many paths. This member cameo is the first of a series featuring members who came to NORDP following postdoc experiences.

Who: Robert Lawrence, Research Development Specialist, Office of Strategic Research Initiatives
Where: Binghamton University
Number of Years in RD: 2
Length of NORDP Membership: 2

What’s your history in RD? When and how did you enter the field? What kind of RD work do you do?

Although I did enjoy working in the lab as a grad student and postdoc, I found that I enjoyed the communication aspect of research as well – the writing publications, proposals, and other materials intended for a wider audience. Toward the end of my postdoc period, I looked for opportunities to do some science writing as a way to expand my skillset and meet the requirements to join the National Association of Science Robert Lawrence photoWriters. In the next phase of my career, I wanted to step toward something that would involve science and research communication on some level. I wasn’t initially aware of research development as a profession per se, but the job descriptions I was interested in led me there eventually. I began working in research development in 2018 at Binghamton University, where I still am now. I am enjoying the diversity of tasks that this field encompasses: shaping the content of proposals, building interdisciplinary teams, drafting internal research communications and developing workshops. I appreciate that these activities are never redundant, and all touch on my experience in research and science communication. They also give me the chance to interact with a lot of bright faculty and be in the academic environment, which I feel like is my natural habitat. 

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

I was introduced to NORDP by my supervisor, who is always supportive of our involvement in NORDP. Along with others in my office, I have attended two NORDP conferences so far and enjoyed connecting with new people there and also reconnecting with some of my former colleagues from research that also went into research development. In talking with others at these meetings, I’ve gained a better sense of the range of activities research development professionals are engaged with at different institutions.

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

We’ve had postdoc dinner meet ups at the conferences that I’ve found helpful. Having that common ground helped me establish some connections outside of my institution, which are always good to have.

How has your service to NORDP enhanced your career?

So far my NORDP service has just been in the form of volunteering to help with different aspects of running the conferences. As expected, this has been a great way to become introduced to others at these meetings and learn from their experience.

How do you see that NORDP functions as a resource for RD professionals coming from post doctoral positions?

I went from wearing a lab coat over shorts and a t-shirt in the lab to wearing slacks and a button up shirt when I made the transition to research development. I think that change in wardrobe is symbolic of a lot of other changes and adjustments that come with moving one’s career from the lab to the office. It’s not impossible, but you do have to rethink how you organize your schedule, how you fit into the university, and so on. There is a whole new lexicon of acronyms and terminology to learn too. Although postdocs are familiar with some things related to the process of research, there is a lot of unfamiliar territory on the administrative side of research that NORDP and good mentors can help you to navigate.

What recommendations do you have for prior postdoc members to get more involved with NORDP?

Attend and volunteer at the meetings the next time you are able to attend. In the meantime, stay involved on the email chats and don’t be afraid to start a new thread when you have a question. Those threads have been very useful in supporting some of the day-to-day activities in our office. And sometimes they can also be a helpful way to be introduced to someone by name, which makes it easier to introduce yourself to them in person when you have the chance.

What tips do you have for trainee members of NORDP or other postdocs looking to find a career in RD?

Find ways to cultivate a continued interest in research, particularly the work going on that the institution where you work (or plan to work). For me, following particular researchers, research development professionals, media outlets, departments or institutions on Twitter has been an easy way to stay current with what is happening in fields that interest me or are relevant to the work I do. The tools used by researchers as well as research development professionals will always be in flux, especially in this post-COVID era that we are transitioning into. So stay interested in that process, and be prepared to bring new ideas from your experience along with you into the field!

Compiled by Daniel Campbell, Member Services Committee

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