NORDP Postdoc Cameo: Alexis Nagel

Who: Alexis Nagel, PhD, Research Instructor, MUSC College of Nursing
Where: Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC
Number of Years in RD: 4 (Officially)
Length of NORDP Membership: 3

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

I transitioned from the bench to RD in 2016. Towards the end of my postdoc tenure I knew that I no longer wanted to pursue a traditional academic career; around the same time, I started working with a senior faculty member who neededNagel,Alexis-AcademicAffairsa great deal of help preparing and submitting federal grants. It was then that I discovered untapped skills in grant writing as well as an affinity for this type of work. A position opened up at my institution’s central RD office about a year later and I was able to land the role based upon that experience. There, I worked primarily on large, infrastructure/capacity-building grants and led grant writing training workshops for early career faculty. I recently transitioned to a new role within the MUSC College of Nursing to help expand overall research funding for that college. I am now providing more one-on-one support to faculty with grant writing and strategy development, which I really enjoy.

What’s your history with NORDP? How have you engaged with the organization?

I joined NORDP in 2017 and have attended two annual meetings. In 2019, I started volunteering for the N-ROAD working group that is building a set of adaptable RD training resources to help research offices implement their own onboarding programs. I also participated in the National Postdoc Association (NPA) annual meeting along with Samar Sengupta, the official NPA liaison. As NORDP representatives, we helped answer questions about the RD career path and promoted NORDP resources available to postdocs. This year I am participating in the NORDP Mentoring Program for the first time, as both a mentor and mentee.

What relationships have you built as a result of NORDP?

I have met so many wonderful individuals through NORDP! The organization has really facilitated my ability to connect professionally with others in the field, particularly those who share my passion for building bridges to alternative career paths for scientists. It truly feels like a community.

How has your service to NORDP enhanced your career?

The networking and professional education opportunities offered through NORDP have been quite valuable. Learning about different institutional environments, funding priorities, and career options in RD has helped me better assess my own professional goals.

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

The trainee membership option, which offers a reduced annual rate compared to the full membership fee, is a great way for postdocs to try out NORDP resources. I know several NORDP members who worked quite hard to get this option rolled out, and I would really encourage postdocs to take advantage of it!

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

For postdocs who aren’t yet members of NORDP, I suggest tuning in to the NPA’s My Postdoc Monthly webinar on August 5, 2020 to find out more about RD. This will be presented by me, Samar Sengupta, PhD (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center), and Kristen Scott, PhD (Moffitt Cancer Center): https://www.nationalpostdoc.org/events/eventdetails.aspx?id=1396321

Next, talk to someone who works in RD to get a sense of the field and determine what transferrable skills you might possess. Consider reaching out to NORDP members at your institution or find us on social media (LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alexisnagel-phd, or follow: @NORDP_official, @AnonDumboOctopi, and others) to connect, set up informational interviews, and build your networks. As I mentioned above, consider signing up for a NORDP trainee membership to gain additional exposure and access to job boards, numerous career resources, mentorship opportunities, and a lot of great people who want to help!

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.

NORDP Postdoc Cameo: Samarpita Sengupta

Who: Samarpita Sengupta, Instructor, Director of Neurosciences Research Development
Where: UT Southwestern Medical Center
Number of Years in RD: 4.5 years
Length of NORDP Membership: 3.5 years

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

I started in RD in 2015, having been recruited as a Scientific Research Writer in the newly formed Neuroscience Research Development office at UT Southwestern Medical Center. After 3.5 years of postdoc, I was sure that the traditional route of postdoc to academic faculty position did not meet my interests, needs or life priorities. I reassessed the skills I possessed and realized that writing/editing was what I was good at. I did a lot of informational interviews senguptaand decided to apply to this position not knowing what Research Development meant. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that this fit my interests, goals and ambitions so well. We built our RD office from the ground up. We mostly work with individual investigators submitting to the NIH and other biomedical funding agencies, including state and private funding. We also work on large grants and deliver a lot of education.

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

I joined NORDP in 2017. I have attended all three NORDP conferences since, and have presented posters and/or talks at all three. At the first conference, I was browsing committees and heard Peggy Sundermeyer asking for volunteers for liaisons from the Strategic Alliances committee. I volunteered to be the liaison between NORDP and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), since I had been involved with the NPA during my postdoc. I attended two NPA conferences as a NORDP liaison and through the demands of postdocs we spoke with, I chaired the working group that created NROAD, the resource that RD offices can use to create internship/training/onboarding programs to help people new to RD get a hands-on understanding of the tasks involved. I was also recruited by Kathy Cataneo to assist with the Member Services subcommittee on creating the new member categories. It was gratifying to both create NROAD and make it available to all NORDP membership as well as help with creation of the Trainee and Emeritus categories of NORDP members. I have helped with the Ambassador program for last year’s conference. I currently serve as the MSC liaison to new trainee members. I also volunteer on the NORDP mentoring committee, have participated in the mentoring program as a mentor and a mentee and currently serve as a facilitator of mentor-mentee pairs and on the RD mentor training subcommittee.

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

NORDP has become home and NORDP members are my people!! Before joining this organization, I browsed a couple of organizations related to grants, but at NORDP, I didn’t have to explain to people what I did! It was also very heartening to see the diversity at NORDP, not only in the people, but in the paths they had taken to a RD career. I have learned so much from everyone! I have gained a mentor through the NORDP mentoring program who has helped me enormously. I have also received mentorship from the NORDP leadership, from the leadership of the committees I have served on, and from several senior and peer NORDP members. I am not naming names because of the fear of inadvertently leaving someone off! I have made friendships with NORDP colleagues, and I will be presenting at the virtual NORDP conference with several NORDP colleagues.

How has your service to NORDP enhanced your career?

Being a member of NORDP and passively following the listserv helped me gain a lot of knowledge about RD and I have been able to build on programs at my institution using that knowledge. In addition, actively volunteering with NORDP has helped me make invaluable networks throughout the country. I was truly honored and humbled to receive the NORDP Rising Star award last year! This has definitely helped me gain some recognition at my institution.

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

For people interested in RD, NORDP provides several great resources, I will list a few: 1) The listserv, where passively gaining information and knowledge will help postdocs get an idea of the conversations, language and jargon of the field, which will definitely give them a leg-up in a job interview. 2) Networks: Participating in NORDP circles, committees or regions or even knowing who in their institution is a part of NORDP and therefore, doing RD, will help postdocs build valuable networks. 3) NORDP job board: This is self-explanatory! 4) RD101: This is a course that is being offered by senior NORDP members and will be a great resource for those seeking to get a head start in RD. 4) NROAD: This is a resource developed for RD offices to create internship programs. Postdocs can go through such programs in their institutional RD offices and get hands-on training in RD tasks. 5) Other NORDP resources: NORDP website and the blog is a treasure trove of resources, reading materials, videos and articles. One can spend days in there reading and understanding what RD is and how diverse it is. 6) Trainee membership: A lot of these resources are available for NORDP members. Postdocs and others who have not had a RD job can become NORDP members using the reduced fee trainee membership and avail all these resources.

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

Attending the national and regional conferences are always a great idea. This year, it can be done in the comfort of your own home! I am a big believer in volunteering and the immense two way benefits to the organization and your own career that come because of it. I encourage them to seek out opportunities to help and be involved, whether it is on a committee, subcommittee or a working group. There are several ways to get involved. Serve as a mentor, serve as a career navigator for new trainee members, join a circle and contribute, the possibilities are endless and we always need more people!

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

I encourage new trainee members to respond to the listserv, even if it is to ask a question. Since we are all service oriented, we are all eager to answer questions! I encourage them to find committees they can serve on, and build their networks. I am working on a pilot program with the mentoring committee to pair each trainee member with a “career navigator”, people who have gone through similar career pathways as theirs. I encourage them to reach out to these people, build these relationships and use those to their advantage. I encourage them to apply to the NORDP mentoring program.

I encourage postdocs who aren’t members of NORDP yet, to tune in to a webinar we are presenting for the National Postdoctoral Association My Postdoc Monthly webinar next month to find out more about RD as a career path. https://www.nationalpostdoc.org/events/eventdetails.aspx?id=1396321

If they think this is the right fit, then I encourage them to consider reaching out to NORDP members in their institutions or find us on social media (Follow @NORDP_official and me, @AnonDumboOctopi and others), set up informational interviews, connect and build your networks! And finally, I encourage them to consider becoming trainee members and gain additional exposure and access to resources and jobs!

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.

NORDP Postdoc Cameo: Kristen Scott

Who: Kristen Scott, PhD, Scientific Development Officer
Where: Moffitt Cancer Center
Number of Years in RD: Officially – 2; Unofficially – 10
Length of NORDP Membership: 2.5 years

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

Like many other postdocs that transitioned into RD, I started engaging in research development activities during my graduate and postdoctoral training – I just didn’t know what it was called at the time. I would proofread colleagues’ manuscripts and grants and provide feedback on organization, scientific soundness, flow, etc. I enjoyed helping others achieve their goals.0027-Kristen Scott2MB

It wasn’t until 2017, when I was looking to transition out of the lab, that I learned that RD was a ‘thing’ and that it could provide a rewarding and fruitful career. I recognized that my organization didn’t have someone fulfilling that role for our faculty so I wrote a white paper, using NORDP’s resources, outlining the need for RD services at Moffitt, what an office could potentially look like, and what specific services I thought would benefit our faculty and their needs. I presented this paper to my current boss and senior leadership, with the support of my postdoctoral mentor, and gained support for this idea. As a result of the white paper discussion, a senior leader took a chance on me to help them with an upcoming P01 grant proposal in an RD capacity. From there, Moffitt took a chance on me and created my current position. I’m currently an RD office of one, tasked with assisting our faculty with generating highly competitive complex grants and helping to build an infrastructure for RD at our institute.

More specifically, I’m focused on elevating Moffitt’s portfolio of large team science awards. I help our faculty put together well organized and founded applications through effective project management, organization, editing, template building, communication with state and federal agencies, and occasional match making of expertise. I also support Moffitt’s P30 Cancer Center Support Grant through provision of project management, ongoing data management, writing, and editing services for annual progress reports and renewal applications.

What’s your history with NORDP? How have you engaged with the organization?

I learned about NORDP as I started to learn about RD in 2017 and got the opportunity to go to my first NORDP conference in 2018 through the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)’s relationship with NORDP. Through this inter-institutional relationship, I met Drs. Samarpita Sengupta and Alexis Nagel and presented posters at both NORDP and NPA national meeting. We are currently working together on presenting an informational webinar for the NPA highlighting what research development is and how NORDP serves the RD professional community.

What relationships have you built as a result of NORDP?

When I started in the field, I didn’t know anyone. Everyone that I have interacted with at NORDP is warm and welcoming, and the NORDP community is truly a collaborative environment where everyone wants everyone else to succeed. Because of this environment, I’ve met people that I keep in touch with from across the country, and a few institutions have offered to let me shadow them as I build resources at my own institution.

How has your service to NORDP enhanced your career?

NORDP helped me establish research development services at my institution by providing wonderfully rich resources on what RD is and what it looks like at different institutions. It helped me gain colleagues that understood the transition that I was going through and what leadership looked like in this field.

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

NORDP provides really meaningful resources for post doctorates looking to transition into RD from the novel internship programs to shadowing RD offices to webinars to providing realistic salary numbers for the field. NORDP really provides a full education of what the field is and where you can go as part of it. Additionally, NORDP’s partnership with the NPA really helps build a bridge into the field by provided RD professionals to talk with, articles in the POSTDOCket, and opportunities to speak with postdocs through their monthly webinar series.

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

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a NORDP member, even if you’ve never spoken with them before. My first interaction with a NORDP member was with Joanna Downer – I cold emailed her following her Science article about RD to ask several questions. She took the time to email me back with copious amounts of advice and suggestions related to my questions. It blew me away and made me want to get more involved in the organization. After joining, I realized that she is an exceptional steward of the organization but that everyone else in NORDP is just as enthusiastic about RD and all are willing to share their experiences.

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

Do your research – really make sure that RD is right for you by engaging in informational interviews with RD professionals, taking advantage of RD internship programs, becoming a member of NORDP, and attending the NORDP annual conference. Take advantage of NORDP’s mentoring program to help build a personal council of mentors within the field that are committed to helping you advance your career. Also, don’t forget the mentors and sponsors that helped you along the way – they are valuable viewpoints for your new career path.

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.

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