The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Gaelle F. Kolb

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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Gaelle F. Kolb, Proposal Development Manager, Office of Research Development, Division of Research, University of Maryland

Describe your work in research development (RD): I am currently a proposal development manager in the Office of Research Development within the Division of Research at the University of Maryland. I am responsible for managing multidisciplinary teams of scientists and leading them to submit highly prestigious, multi-million dollars grants to various sponsors. The teams vary with the open calls and so do the represented disciplines.

Describe your postdoc work: My scientific background is in infectious diseases. During my first postdoc, I investigated the role of a host protein in waking up Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 from latency in infected neurons. The work was seminal in demonstrating that, in fact, a host protein was indispensable for that event to start, and another postdoc demonstrated that it recruited a whole complex of proteins to re-activate the viral transcription. In a shorter second postdoc, I identified a Heat Shock protein as binding to Ebola Virus genome, and in a later publication on which I am a collaborative author, the team demonstrated that this protein was indispensable to viral replication, making it a potential drug target.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: I was very involved in professional and career development during my postdoc, helping other postdocs (and myself) find the career of their dream. I became the grants and training development specialist in one of the NIH institutes, which totally opened up my love for proposal development and helping others better write how much their science would impact our society.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provided to your skill set related to RD: I was a restless postdoc, always getting involved in “other/administrative” internships. I became a great listener and talker as well.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? As a postdoc, you have cultivated the passion for science. Now, keep the breadth and forget about the depth.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Moving to my current position has been the best experience in research development. Before that, I felt that I was only allowed to dabble, expressing other people’s way of doing. Now, I become part of the team every time I support a new proposal development. I am learning about their subject matter so I can provide critical feedback to their proposed research. I continue to read everything about science (I am member of the AAAS, reader of Science magazine, reader of Nature and The Scientist, in addition to NSF and NIH news).

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? Well, I like the fact that I don’t have to drill too deep into one subject anymore; instead, I can dream big with a team, and differently as I move on to the next team. I like the fast pace and flexible hours. I don’t mind taking on a few hours of work at night or on weekends provided that I can work flexibly otherwise.

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? Be patient and nurture your professional network. Be professional and always give the best of yourself, which is why I feel I was offered my current position!

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Miquella Chavez Rose

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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Miquella Chavez Rose, Executive Director, Research Triangle MRSEC

Describe your work in research development (RD): I’ve been engaged for about six months now, first as helping coordinate a NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) resubmission, then other various NSF center applications coming from the former faculty from our current MRSEC.

Describe your postdoc work: My postdoc was focused on trying to grow teeth. More specifically, we were using the ever-growing mouse incisor stem cells and trying to create a 3D biomaterial platform to control the homeostasis and differentiation of these cells into enamel producing ameloblasts.

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: I transitioned from my postdoc into my current position as Executive Director of the Research Triangle MRSEC, and found that the proposal development and team building aspect of the resubmission was something I very much enjoyed and wanted to pursue.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: Being able to think of the science “big picture” is something really necessary for a good postdoc, and those skills come in handy in research development, as well as the independent nature of the postdoc translates well into research development.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? Volunteer to be part of the grant writing process in any form in your current lab (helping write sections for you PI, or submitting your own) will help you in the long run. Also, reach out to your RD office on campus; you may be able to shadow or volunteer with their group to see if you really would enjoy the day to day experience of a RD professional.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Of course, it is great when you hear something you worked on was funded, but sometimes it is a simple as getting the proposal out the door, knowing you helped make it the best it could be.

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? I really like the collaborative nature of the work; when you work with a really good team, it is really fun and exciting. The work is deadline driven and can be long hours during grant season, but as a postdoc we are used to the long hours, and it’s actually less hours than a typical postdoc, and the deadline is actually a nice change from bench work, in which there is always that “next experiment.”

What other insights might be relevant to postdocs considering an RD career? The NORDP group is really a great group of people that are super friendly and helpful, so if you are thinking of this type of career, just keep in contact with the representative and they will help you get connected!

Posted on behalf of the Strategic Alliances Committee committee

The Transition from Postdoc to Research Development: Rebecca Terns

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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Rebecca Terns, Proposal Enhancement Officer, Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Georgia

Describe your work in research development (RD): I work in the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia. My responsibility is to help investigators across campus develop strong, successful research proposals. I facilitate large, complex proposals including those involving multiple investigators, multiple institutions, and multiple disciplines. I help investigators (both individuals and teams) assess research plans and effectively communicate critical points. I also organize and present programs to help investigators identify funding sources, understand the proposal evaluation process, and improve grant-writing skills.

Describe your postdoc work: In my postdoctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I identified molecular and genetic factors critical for epidermal development in C. elegans. C. elegans and Madison are wonderful!

Describe your transition from your postdoc/research background to RD: Following my postdoctoral work, I co-directed a large research group in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia. We made significant contributions to the fields of small RNA biology, telomerase and cancer, and CRISPR-Cas biology. I obtained extensive experience in scientific analysis and funding, project management, and collaborative research development and writing. I developed and taught graduate-level courses on effective science communication. I developed a strong interest in extending the impact of my work across a broader landscape.

Describe the benefits your postdoc work provides to your skill set related to RD: During the first weeks of my postdoc, I immersed myself in a brand-new research field and wrote an NIH fellowship proposal that funded my postdoctoral studies. My enjoyment of that experience is recapitulated regularly in the work that I now do in university research development. The scientific knowledge base and analytical thinking that I developed during my postdoctoral work and subsequent years is also essential to my effectiveness.

What words of wisdom do you have for postdocs who might consider an RD career? Effective writing is a key skill in research development. All of the great writers that I meet say that writing is a struggle for them at times – that feeling does not mean that you are not a skilled writer.

What has been your best experience, so far, with your work in RD? Without a doubt, it is the extent of the appreciation of the investigators with whom I work!

Why do you think RD is a good career choice? It is a great career choice for scientists with particular aptitudes that complement their scientific training and experience (e.g. big picture focus, project management, collaboration, effective communication). Beyond your postdoc, experience in a faculty position is helpful to develop valuable broader perspectives.

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