The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Kathryn Partlow

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

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Kathryn Partlow, Senior Proposal Development Coordinator, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Describe your work in RD: I’ve worked in RD for almost 6 years. I recently advanced from being an entry-level specialist to a senior-level coordinator. My role in brief is to support proposal development for early-career and tenured faculty with research interests spanning engineering, life and social sciences. This includes refining project ideas, finding collaborators, identifying funding opportunities, and ensuring timely submission of a competitive proposal. When developing the proposal, I work to present the proposed research in a way that is logical and easily understood by reviewers, including development of the storyline or schematics. I also ensure the proposal meets the evaluation criteria, funding agency priorities, and other requirements such as broader impacts.

Describe your postdoc work: I developed a passion for research during a summer internship at a pharmaceutical company and went on to earn a PhD in molecular cell biology. My postdoc experience involved the development and characterization of novel drugs for cancer.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: While conducting cancer research during my graduate and postdoctoral training, I always gravitated toward interdisciplinary research and enjoyed communicating with people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. During this time, I became passionate about facilitating interdisciplinary research. I believe bringing researchers together from diverse disciplines and backgrounds is the only way to address some of society’s greatest challenges. Often times, developing a proposal for a funding opportunity can be the nucleus that brings these teams together.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: For success in research development, it definitely helps to have a strong background in science and research. One of the most rewarding experiences during my postdoctoral time was mentoring the undergraduate and graduate students within the lab. I enjoyed sharing my experiences, challenging students to think outside the box, assisting them in coming to conclusions on their own, and aiding in their development as scientists. These same skills definitely help when working with early-career faculty and teams.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? During my postdoc, I did some informational interviews with NORDP members, which was beneficial. I also attended an annual NORDP meeting before starting my job in research development, which was a great way to be introduced to the field. I found research to be consuming and struggled with work-life balance. Although I still work hard, the one degree of separation and the fact that you can work from anywhere has been good for me.

 What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? I find helping teams become greater than the sum of their parts extremely rewarding. I also really enjoy working with early-career faculty. I was surprised with how much I enjoy working across disciplines, including with the social sciences. When you’re doing your own research, you are so focused and don’t realize you have a limited view. I am a better-rounded person now and have greatly expanded my scientific knowledge and expertise.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? I’ve found research development to be a rewarding career that builds upon my experience and training. I also feel like I’m able to use my skills more fully in research development than if I had taken a research path. Working at a higher level within the research enterprise enables you to make a bigger impact.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Christina Papke

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

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Christina Papke, Research Development Officer, Texas A&M University

Describe your work in research development (RD): I have been in research development for 2.5 years. I provide proposal assistance and critiques to individual faculty members (mainly for NIH proposals, but I have provided assistance on proposals for a few other life science foundations, also). I also facilitate faculty writing groups, meet one-on-one with faculty to discuss their proposals, and give seminars across campus as needed. Our office also facilitates review of larger proposals and brings in an outside consultant to give a 1.5-day seminar on grant writing.

Describe your postdoc work: : During my first postdoc, I focused on the cell biology of aortic aneurysms. I used mice deficient in alpha-actin, a protein critical for proper blood vessel contraction, to help identify some cellular pathways that are disrupted during aortic disease progression. During my second postdoc, I studied on the extracellular matrix biology of thoracic aortic aneurysms. Using mice deficient in fibulin-4, an important extracellular matrix protein in the vasculature, I determined some effects of fibulin-4 loss on collagen in mouse aortas.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: fibulin-4 loss on collagen in mouse aortas. Two years into my second postdoc, I found out that my research mentor would be moving her lab overseas the following year. My two options were to either start completely over in a new postdoc or find an alternate career. As I thought about all of the things I enjoyed (and disliked) about working as a researcher, I realized that I did not want to pursue a research faculty position. Since I enjoyed writing and editing, and enjoyed putting grant applications together, I joined a professional organization for medical writers and began exploring writing and editing careers. Through that organization, I met someone involved in grant writing and learned about research development as a career option. I discovered that it matched very well with my skills and interests. The same individual knew about a research development job opening at Texas A&M University, which ended up being an excellent match.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Most importantly, my postdoc work provided me with a solid background in biomedical research and allowed me to apply for and successfully obtain an F32 postdoctoral fellowship. Since many sections of the F32 are similar to the grants that faculty apply for, I was able to gain valuable grant-writing experience. Additionally, networking with faculty at research conferences gave me some of the skills I need for interacting well with faculty members in my current position. Also, I had the opportunity to serve on postdoctoral association committees. These experiences, along with co-chairing a Gordon Research Seminar, allowed me to gain experience with coordinating events and interacting further with faculty members.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? Find a few people currently in research development. Set up a meeting or phone call and talk with them about their career path, why they chose research development as a career, and what skill sets are necessary to succeed. Talk with multiple people, if possible, to get different perspectives. Research development can look different at large vs. small institutions, or in a departmental RD office vs. a central RD office. Also, consider joining a professional organization, such as the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP)! There are lots of benefits of membership that make it a worthwhile investment in your future career, including a mentoring program, and access to other mentoring resources on the NORDP website, and  access to a listserv, where you’ll see conversations about research development-related topics, and an occasional job posting. Additionally, whether or not you choose to join NORDP, I would encourage anyone considering RD as a career to subscribe to the NORDP blog at www.nordpnews.org. You can subscribe regardless of whether you are a NORDP member.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Choosing just one good experience is difficult, because I have enjoyed many aspects of my work. I always enjoy hearing from faculty members that they found my critique of their grant application helpful, and I am excited to hear whenever someone I assisted received funding!

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? Research development is an excellent career choice for those who wish to remain somewhat connected to the faculty and research and who enjoy putting grants together but don’t want to be directly involved with doing bench work. Research development is also a service-oriented profession. If you enjoy interacting with faculty members, seeing a broad variety of research topics rather than just a narrowly focused set of topics, and helping contribute to the success of researchers, research development may be a good career choice for you.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee

 

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Maile Henson

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

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Maile Henson, Research Development Associate, Office of Research Development, Duke University School of Medicine

Describe your work in research development (RD): Our office facilitates the development and submission of complex (i.e. multi-investigator, multi-institutional, multi-component) and individual grant proposals, mostly to NIH. I work with principal investigators and research teams to develop their study designs and grantsmanship strategies, providing advice on programmatic intent, content, organization, and presentation, as well as critical editing and writing support. Besides proposal development, I assist with grant writing workshops and develop project management tools for defining RD best practices for our office.

Describe your postdoc work: I studied the process by which connections, or synapses, between neurons in the developing brain are weakened and eliminated. I manipulated the strength of synapses by treating brain tissue with drugs, and determined synaptic changes with confocal imaging. My work showed that synapses have to be weakened multiple times to be eliminated, which requires gene and protein synthesis, as well as activity by enzymes involved in cell death and brain functions (such as learning and memory).

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: Close to the end of my NIH postdoc, I realized that my motivations for getting the PhD had changed and I no longer enjoyed the bench work. I needed a different kind of challenge. Through an internship opportunity in the Scientific Review Branch at NIH/NIEHS, I helped manage the grant peer review process for two reviews, and participated in several others. I then worked briefly with small biotech startups applying for non-dilutive NIH research funding through SBIR/STTR grants. These experiences solidified my decision to pursue a career away from the lab. During this time, I met my soon-to-be supervisor through an informational interview, where we shared our mutual interests in the art of grantsmanship and the drive to help scientists get funding to do their great science. I applied later for an opening on her Office of Research Development team, and here I am in my third year of RD.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Trained as a neuroscientist with extensive experience writing and editing scientific manuscripts and grant applications, I had a solid foundation moving into research development. My many years spent in lab research helped me to understand the grant applicant’s perspective. However, I also brought a unique perspective to the job: managing both grant proposal preparations and peer reviews after submission gave me key insights into the behind-the-scenes processes of the NIH funding world. I interacted with multiple parties (PIs/applicants, peer reviewers, scientific review staff, program staff, grant administrators), managing deadlines; observing and documenting review panel deliberations; advising investigators on funding opportunities, proposal strategy, content, organization, and requirements; and ensuring successful integration of grant components. These experiences frame my RD work every day.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? Learn all you can about the field. Talk to an RD professional. Find an institution with an internship program that will give you exposure to the type of work and skills required to be successful in RD.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? I enjoy working with the faculty on strategies in developing their proposals. The gratitude from the investigators for all we do to help them submit polished, competitive proposals, and the thrill of getting funding to enable cutting-edge science are wonderful affirmations to me. I know I made the right career choice.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? I love my job! RD suits my strengths and interests well. I know this is what I am meant to be doing in my career and I think many others would agree if they had an opportunity to explore RD.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

 

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Alexis Nagel

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

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Alexis Nagel, Research Development Strategist, Office of Research Development, Medical University of South Carolina

Describe your work in research development (RD): I help to identify and advertise funding opportunities that are aligned with faculty research interests and institutional priorities. I also work with research interest groups on campus to build long-term strategies for funding. I manage my institution’s annual shared instrumentation (NIH) and research infrastructure improvement (NSF) grant application submissions, and assist with preparation of multi-component program and center proposals. Also, I lead informational sessions and faculty enrichment activities, including a grant writing workshop that I developed.

Describe your postdoc work: I received my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2010. During my first postdoc, I studied the role of metabolic-sensing O-GlcNAc post-translational modifications in bone health and development using mass spectrometry (MS) based techniques. For my second postdoc, I applied MS-based molecular networking approaches to discover and characterize natural product drug leads.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: It was during my second postdoc that I discovered an aptitude for grant writing and proposal management that set the stage for my eventual transition to RD. Toward the end of my first postdoc I began to have doubts about the tenure-track faculty path for a variety of reasons and recognized the need for a career reassessment. I then learned of a newly hired senior faculty member who had relocated to our institution and needed help assembling proposals while reestablishing his lab. Because I was already considering an alternative career path, I was open to dialing back my research responsibilities to accommodate grant preparation activities. Over time I found I enjoyed this role; however, I also understood that I needed to move up and out of my postdoctoral training phase if I was serious about pursuing a different career trajectory. When a position opened up in my institution’s RD office several months later I applied and was hired as a Research Development Officer.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Senior postdocs and early-career faculty members face many challenges while attempting to build funding for their research programs. As someone who traveled down this road for a time, I understand these frustrations and I am attempting to translate lessons learned from these experiences into training opportunities and resources that will serve and support these groups at my institution.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? To be effective in RD you will need to build a diverse set of relationships with faculty and staff members at your institution and possibly other partnering entities and funding agencies. So make sure you like talking to people! In RD, interpersonal skills are probably just as important as writing experience and will serve you well when navigating the political landscape.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Observing the successful outcomes of long-term team funding efforts. When you start at the ground floor with a faculty group and continue to work alongside them the entire way, it is gratifying to see the combined hard work and planning of the team pay off as they reach their funding goals.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? While I am no longer directly involved in academic research, I continue to have a tremendous passion for the sciences and respect for those working within the various fields. After being completely immersed in one subject area for so many years, I now appreciate the “20,000-foot view,” as it were, of the latest science taking place at my institution and across the nation. Additionally, I think if I had pursued a traditional faculty path I would have needed many more years of seniority before I was in a position to give back to the faculty research community through training and education, which is another aspect of this position that I really enjoy.

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? To these postdocs – it is important to keep in mind that your investment in scientific training is not a sunk cost! My guess is that you have many transferrable skills that simply require an adjustment in focus. I would suggest reading current RD position announcements to get a feel for the field, and reaching out to RD professionals either at your institution or through NORDP. Schedule informational interviews and inquire how these individuals came to be in their current role. Then think about how you can re-tailor or otherwise build upon your existing training to ideally position yourself for such a role in the future.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Courtney Hunt

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

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Courtney Hunt, Assistant Director, Center for Drug Discovery, College of Pharmacy, University of Houston

Describe your work in RD: I am currently the Assistant Director, starting up a new research center. I just transferred to this position. Previously, I was in the central Research Development Office in the Division of Research for three years. My current responsibilities include establishing the center recruiting members, developing the research program, educational program, and external outreach; managing the submission of multi-PI and core facility proposals; etc. My former position entailed identifying funding opportunities and matching them to appropriate faculty, running the limited submission program, getting teams together to discuss the potential for large, multi-disciplinary proposal submissions, hosting program officers, hosting or conducting grant writing workshops, etc.

Describe your postdoc work: I did a two-year postdoc at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Along with the expected experimental design, performing experiments, and data analysis, I got involved in a lot of other activities. I mentored summer students and doctoral students in the Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences, was an active member (including a board member) of the Postdoctoral Association, researched and negotiated equipment acquisition, was awarded a PhRMA Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and gave seminars at other departments’ seminar series. I also participated in any career development activity that MDACC offered. My postdoc advisor also went on sabbatical for the second year of my postdoc fellowship, so I operated with a high level of independence.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: My transition was a bit serendipitous. I was looking around and happened upon an interesting job posting at the University of Houston for a Research Liaison Officer. This required a PhD and seemed to fit my skill set and interests quite well. I contacted someone via LinkedIn who previously held the position and got some additional information about what they were really looking for, tailored my application materials accordingly, and prepared thoroughly for the interview.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: My postdoc allowed me to perform with a level of independence that I didn’t have in graduate school, especially with my advisor out of the country and having obtained my own funding. This developed the critical thinking and problem solving that is necessary for a career in research development. It also provided the opportunity to personally talk with faculty members in the department, which is also vital to an RD position. Perhaps equally important are all of the “other” skills that I refined during my postdoc – writing, communication (both email, phone and in person), serving in leadership positions, editing other researcher’s manuscript, abstracts, etc.

What words of wisdom do you have for current postdocs who might consider an RD career? In RD, you will learn a little about all sorts of different research, but it will no longer be YOUR project and you will not be the expert. Make sure you are ready for that. In exchange, you GET to learn about many different disciplines, which is intellectually rewarding. You enter RD because you want to stay close to science and help people be more successful.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Having a faculty member tell me, “I couldn’t have done this without you.” Being awarded a $10 million grant that I spent hours on was a pretty great experience, too!

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? RD enables you to stay tied to cutting-edge research without focusing on the same protein for your entire career. It is intellectually rewarding while also keeping your nights and weekends free. This is a growing field, with more institutions building RD offices, especially with the funding climate shifting to multidisciplinary research.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

Considering the NORDP Elevator Pitch

“We support the people who make research happen.”

This was the elevator pitch used recently when I joined Michael Spires, NORDP board president, at the National Postodoctoral Association (NPA). As NORDP’s Strategic Alliances Committee liaison with the NPA, I helped staff the NORDP booth that welcomed 73 people who picked up brochures and information.

One of the first things Michael and I had to do was to perfect our elevator pitch on what RD as a career path looks like and how NORDP fits in the equation. This was warranted because people had difficulties differentiating us, a professional development organization, from a company that provides professional services like grant writing or grants management (a legitimate confusion, given that there were other companies and organizations there that offered these services). We were, however, able to get over this problem by comparing ourselves to the NPA, which is an analogous organization.

In the past year, NORDP has developed a new professional relationship with the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). To develop this blossoming friendship, the two organizations decided to conference swap. NORDP was invited to attend the NPA annual meeting, with two complementary registrations and exhibit table. In return, Kristen Scott, NPA board member, attended the 10th annual NORDP conference. NORDP’s goal was to advocate for RD as a non-traditional career path, to build awareness of NORDP and its resources, and to increase NORDP membership. The Strategic Alliances Committee developed a four-page brochure that described RD basics and transitions into RD careers from postdoc positions.

The NORDP Board, Communications Working Group, and Strategic Alliances Committee are working on an official elevator pitch and other communications tools. They would love to harness the wisdom of the crowd and invite you to share your thoughts.

What is the elevator pitch you use to explain your job to your faculty, to your research administration, to your friends and to your grandma? If you have ideas that we can use to stitch together to come up with a common voice, send them to us by email at liaison@nordp.org.

Submitted by Samarpita Sengupta.

 

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Samarpita Sengupta

The following is part of a limited blog series from the Strategic Alliances Committee highlighting NORDP members who have transitioned from postdoctoral positions to careers in research development.

senguptaSamarpita Sengupta, Scientific Research Writer, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Describe your work in research development (RD): In 2015, I became the Scientific Research Writer in the newly created Neuroscience Research Development (NeRD) Office in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherpeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. I help PIs, fellows, clinical and basic science researchers, and nurses maneuver the grant application process. I help with funding identification, idea generation, proposal development, document generation, and grant submission to funding agencies. I also contribute to the process of creation of manuscripts and their submission to peer reviewed journals. I work with PIs in the department as well as its affiliated centers such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Neuroscience Nursing Research Center. I am the Director of the NeRD-Associate in training (NeAT) program, Co-director of the faculty professional development series, member of the neurology research committee, and Director of the manuscript workshop at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Describe your postdoc work: My first postdoctoral work was in the Departments of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX. I worked on identifying novel pathway components of the pheromone sensing pathway using Drosophila as a model system and a large scale forward genetic screen and electrophysiology. After my postdoc mentor ran out of funding, I did a second shorter postdoc in the Department of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Here, I worked on understanding the signaling mechanisms in the antiphospholipid syndrome that result in pregnancy complications and miscarriages. Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes vascular thrombosis and pregnancy loss. I also worked on applying a novel method to specifically label in vivo and study the transcriptome of endothelial cells. Further, I worked on understanding the mechanism of diabetic complications in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Describe your transition from postdoc/research background to RD: During my first postdoc, I realized my scientific passions were beyond the bench. I discovered an interest in scientific writing and started actively networking for science writing jobs. I had an informational interview with Charlene Supnet, PhD, current director of the NeRD Office. I inquired about her job and it struck me as something I would like to do. I kept in touch with her, and several months after the initial informational interview (during which time I transitioned to another postdoc position), she contacted me after a position opened up in her newly established NeRD office. After an interview with her, the Research Programs Manger of Neurology, and three faculty members in the department, I was hired for the position.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: This job requires me to understand both the scientific and administrative components of a grant proposal development and submission. Being a scientist and having a PhD helps me understand the science. I also wrote research grants and edited my PI’s grants while in grad school and as a postdoc. This experience helps me with constructively critiquing the proposal from an outsider’s point of view, while still being knowledgeable about the science. Having been an active member of the Graduate Student Organization and the Quest for Career group at UT Southwestern gave me extensive experience on managing projects and people. I attained several transferrable skills such as project management, effective time management, leadership, communication skills, ability to speak different “languages” and so on during graduate and postdoc training.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider a career in RD?

  • Find an RD professional in your area; a list can be found on the NORDP website (http://www.nordp.org/nordp-regions).
  • Set up an informational interview. RD is a complex field, with several job titles and descriptions. You might find something you like once you talk to people about it!
  • Tons of other resources on NORDP website (http://www.nordp.org/resources), the NORDP job board, and the NORDP blog.
  • Grant writing workshops can double as career planning sessions for interested postdocs, graduate students. Attend or organize those; local RD professionals can help!
  • Consider doing an internship/shadowing RD personnel to gain expertise. We offer a four-week training program to give people a glimpse of RD as a career.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? I love the satisfaction of being in academia and having a pulse on the latest scientific discoveries, being part of scientific teams, of the idea creation and development portions. I love to teach people about how to write, guide them through a grant/manuscript writing process, and help make it less daunting for newbies. I love the freedom to create my own job description, finding areas of improvement and improving them. I love the satisfaction of project completion and that this job provides me the opportunity to have a healthy work-life balance.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? RD makes good use of transferrable skills. You get to be actively engaged in the scientific process, ensuring funding for cutting-edge research, building competitive teams, and having a finger on the scientific pulse of the institution. The best RD professionals are master jugglers of scientific fields and carry a strong understanding of the scientific method. Therefore, they can easily take on the role of a central resource within an institution and assist faculty with a very diverse set of interests. An increasing number of institutions, ranging in size and expertise are creating offices of research and looking for people with scientific training to fill positions within these offices.

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? RD as a career is often overlooked, but there is a large need for it. However, from conducting the NeAT program, we have found that not everyone has the aptitude to have a career in RD. It is a “service” industry and has the usual pitfalls of such an industry. However, it is not a job; it is a career.

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee