New Board Member Cameo: Samarpita Sengupta

Samarpita Sengupta, PhD, NORDP Board Member

Who: Samarpita Sengupta, PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of Research

Where: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Number of Years Working in RD: Seven years

Length of NORDP Membership: Five years

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

I came to the United States in 2007 for my PhD. After my PhD, I was almost convinced that the traditional academic route was not meant for me, however, three years into my postdoc I knew that for certain. I started doing informational interviews to find out what career paths aligned with my interests. After several of these, I spoke to someone who ended up being my boss in my first research development job. We had talked about grant writing, and I didn’t know the term research development existed when I was interviewing. I joined as a scientific research writer in the newly formed Neuroscience Research Development (NeRD) office. We created the office from the ground up. Our responsibilities spanned the research cycle from idea generation to grant submission We went from submitting between five and 20 grants a year to over 100 grants per year. We kept that momentum going until 2020 when my boss moved to a different role and I started directing the office. In 2021, in search of career growth, I landed into what I called a RD plus role.

Right now, I serve as the Director of Research in the physician assistant studies program at UT Southwestern. I also have a faculty role which means I get to advise and mentor students as well, but my main focus is creating strategic programs and working with faculty and students to increase research capacity and scholarly output in the areas of education research, quality improvement with the goal of getting people engaged in allied health related clinical research. I also have some administrative responsibilities around maintaining program accreditation.

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

When we started the RD office we fell into research development “by accident”. We didn’t have any formal training or a formal path to it. So we decided we wanted to make it better for people for people coming after us so we created a training program in our office where we would allow students, staff and trainees to shadow us for four weeks, eight hours a week using their personal time. This program was called the NeRD associate in training or NeAT program. We would teach them the basics of research development – how to talk to a faculty member, how you create teams, how you edit or refine a proposal, how you create a budget, how you work with sponsored programs. I presented this program at the 2017 NORDP conference which was the first conference where I presented a poster.

At that conference, I attended the Strategic Alliances Committee meeting and Peggy Sundermeyer was looking for someone to volunteer as a liaison between NORDP and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). I had volunteered for NPA while a postdoc, so I figured this would be a really good fit for me. I volunteered to be a liaison. My initial term was for two years and then it was extended for two more years. I attended conferences with NPA and had people from NPA come and attend NORDP conferences. The goal was to create a pipeline from postdocs to RD. Not a lot of postdocs know about RD, therefore, there is a rich niche of people we can recruit from. That relationship led to a couple of changes for NORDP as well.  We created the trainee and emeritus memberships in NORDP because we wanted to attract trainees and students to get a foot in the door through NORDP. I worked on this project in collaboration with the then chair of the MSC, Kathy Cataneo. At the NPA conferences I attended, postdocs were curious about RD internships. Through the generosity of NORDP members, we solicited other examples of onboarding programs, combined them with NeAT program’s structure and created a resource that RD offices can take to create their own internship, training or onboarding programs called NROAD to RD. The teams that worked on this project was awarded the NORDP Innovation award this year and I couldn’t be more grateful to have worked with these dedicated individuals.  

With the Member Services Committee I also helped create the Ambassador Program which matched up new conference attendees with seasoned conference attendees so they had at least one point of contact to talk to and ask questions so they wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed at their first conference. I joined the Professional Development Committee and the Mentoring Committee and served as a mentor and a mentee. I’ve been part of the NORDP Certification Task Force. We’re also trying to get an Immigrant Affinity Group off the ground. I have presented at each of the NORDP conferences since 2017 and was part of the inaugural LEAD cohort. I served as co-chair of the Mentoring Committee as well.

What motivated you to run for the NORDP Board?

I have been thinking about the board for a while, but while I had started several projects, I had not led a committee.  Last year I participated in the Lead Program, and I served as the Mentoring Committee co-chair for a year. I have tried to be very intentional about using all my experience volunteering for several different committees so I could know what most committees do and where they stand, so I can be a voice for everyone. This year, I knew that I had the experience to back up any decisions that needed to be made regarding the organization. I think I understood the organization enough, had some ideas of what people wanted from it, what the mission and vision was and could morph into in the future so I would be comfortable being part of making larger decisions.

What are you most excited about as a new NORDP Board member?

I get excited about everything! From the beginning, my work in NORDP has been about creating a path for people who want to do RD but don’t really know about RD. As our organization grows, we need more people to join us, and we need more revenue sources as we grow to keep the organization afloat.

One of the things I am passionate about is to help people make the conscious decision to join RD and not just “fall into” it as I and many others have done. I want to continue the work NORDP has ongoing to making sure academics, funders, and institutional leaders understand what RD is, how it is different from and similar to RA, how it is different from R&D.

I’m also excited about several new NORDP offerings, such as the work being done by the certification task force. If and when this comes to fruition, it would be a really big deal for our organization. I am excited about the work done by all the NORDP committees, putting forth innovative programs and resources. I am excited about the commitment from NORDP leadership and its members on being a forerunner on inclusive excellence. I am excited and humbled to be working with some amazing individuals on the NORDP Board, many of whom have been mentors and personal heroes! Finally, I am incredibly grateful to the NORDP membership who have placed their trust in me and my fellow new Board members and I hope I can help propel our organization forward.

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