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.

hunt
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

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