NORDP Postdoc Cameo: Diana Sama

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

Who: Diana Sama, Proposal Development Officer
Where: University of Kentucky
Number of Years in RD: 4 ½ years
Length of NORDP Membership: 3 years

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

I became interested in science communication during my training in biomedical neuroscience. Throughout my training, I helped my mentors and collaborators write proposals with increasing involvement as time progressed. I also received my own individual fellowship and really enjoyed the application process. While in my postdoc, I served as a ghostwriter my university’s health care marketing team and worked on recruiting materials, stock power point slides, and articles for their quarterly _DSC7929DianaMathisSamapublication. This gave me experience writing for a lay audience and interacting with clients. When it came time for the next career step, I decided to try my hand at RD and found a position outside academia with small educational nonprofit. I quickly developed skills in team building, networking, and grant writing outside my field of expertise. I also became well versed in scoping out potential sponsors. While I loved working with that group, I missed science and ended up returning to the university setting. I’ve been in the University of Kentucky Proposal Development Office for about three years now, and I feel like I’ve found my niche. Our most popular service is proposal review, where we read content for clarity, flow, organization, adherence to guidelines, and perform a gap analysis. Our other services include consultations for proposal guidance and advice, collaborator searches, funding opportunity disseminations, personalized funding searches, and grant-related workshop training for the campus community. We work on individual investigator proposal, as well as complex/multicomponent proposals.

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

I have been a member of NORDP for 2 ½ years. I have attended the national conference, as well as the SE regional meeting. I found the presentations in both settings very informative for my current position. Topics included best-practices to innovative initiatives to networking with others in the field. I plan to become more involved over time as I learn more about NORDP and all of the committees. I have participated in surveys and conversations with a few committees, providing input where able.

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

At my first NORDP conference I attended a networking dinner with other RD professionals who transitioned from postdocs, and the group has sporadically stayed in touch, thanks to the organizer of that dinner (Samar Sengupta) who rallies the group together every so often for NORDP-related input and conversation. The interaction with colleagues from similar training backgrounds has helped me feel welcomed and like I have a place and identity in the organization.

How has your service to NORDP enhanced your career?

I still have a lot of progress to make in this area, BUT I think just having a group to identify with—both NORDP as an organization, and former postdocs as RD professionals—has helped me validate my career choice. I think postdocs often struggle with the decision to leave their subject behind, but seeing many others in the same situation has eased my mental journey to this career.

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

What I find interesting and unique about RD and RD professionals is that it is such a mixed group, in terms of training and career backgrounds. Coming from a disciplinary background, we always considered our professional societies to be the authority on everything we needed for our career, and I think NORDP comfortably fills that role for RD professionals. Finding such an organization felt very natural and helped ease the transition from my discipline to the RD profession. I know I can rely on NORDP for invaluable resources, conferences centered on professional learning, policy updates, innovative research, networking, career mentoring and advice, and job postings. The list serve is full of resources and advice, and I highly recommend signing up, just to see what questions other RDs pose and to see the vast historical, regulatory, and professional knowledge that the collective membership offers. I think NORDP helps all RD professionals feel like we belong and contribute to something bigger than our organization.

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

The best way to start getting involved is by attending the national and regional conferences. I highly recommend the networking dinners at the national conference. Find a topic or host that interest you and sign-up early because the dinners fill up fast. Also attend the committee meetings to see what they are all about and consider joining a committee or working with a committee.

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

There are many paths to becoming an RD professional. If the career interests you, try to take advantage of your local network to get some relevant experiences while in your postdoc, even if it is outside the RD field. Work on building skills such as breaking down complex information for a lay audience, writing proposals and papers, or working with clients. Also, don’t overlook volunteer work to help build your skillset. If you enjoy the experience, start looking at job ads to get an idea of who is hiring and where, and what kind of work is available. Also look at national resources for RD information and careers, and keep in mind that the professional society in your discipline may have some information to offer, so ask around at your national conferences. Finally, keep in mind there are many settings in which you can work as an RD professional. Some people find the perfect fit with their first position, but sometimes it takes one or two job changes to get that ideal fit. So, don’t give up and feel free to reach out to those of us in NORDP who have already navigated the career transition.

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.

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