New NORDP Board Member Cameo: Becca Latimer

Becca Latimer, NORDP Board Member

Who: Becca Latimer, Research Program Director

Where: University of Virginia Comprehensive Cancer Center

Number of Years Working in RD: Seven Years

Length of NORDP Membership: Seven years

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

I fell into RD, as many of us in NORDP do. I had just completed a postdoctoral position in developmental biology, and I knew I wanted to stay in research but I did not want to open a lab. I knew there had to be something else out there that would allow me to utilize the skill sets I had learned at the bench. We had just moved to Virginia when I heard about a position in the office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Virginia – they were starting up a research development team. While I didn’t get the job I had originally applied for, I stayed in touch with the hiring manager and was offered a position to lead a funding discovery project the office was trying to get off the ground. I jumped in and learned quickly, and the rest is history!

As for the work I do now, I’ve recently started in a new position in the University of Virginia Cancer Center. My new role allows me to support many of the key functions that keep the center running. So far, I have taken on projects like putting together new seed grants and revamping and streamlining our processes to make the center function more efficiently. I’ve also been doing a lot of work on our internal metrics. We have more than 200 members so there’s a lot of data to keep up with! So in my time at UVA, I’ve gone from a very central to a very focused role – two totally different beasts, but both important to the whole research enterprise.

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

My history with NORDP started when I attended my first NORDP conference and it opened my eyes to the fact that these are my people and this is a really cool organization. I quickly became interested in committee service and decided to join the professional development committee, although it was a tough choice because all of the committees interested me! In 2019, there was an opportunity to step up to serve as a co-chair for the PD Committee, and I decided to say yes because I knew it would give me a chance to be more involved and meet more people and contribute to the projects the committee was trying to move forward.

I’ve also worked with Kimberly Eck on the salary survey committee in 2019, which I found to be very fun and fulfilling. I feel like the salary survey really gives us a good idea of where we stand as professionals and as an organization. And I think it has been a useful tool to our members that they can use to advocate for themselves and their colleagues when it comes to negotiating with their institutions.

Most recently, I became involved with the NORDP Conference Planning Committee. I started right before we put on the 2021 virtual conference, which was our first virtual conference, and served as a co-chair for the 2022 virtual conference. I’m currently serving as a co-chair for our 2023 conference (our first in-person conference in four years), and I also serve on the executive conference committee. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that the last time NORDP held our conference in Crystal City, it was 2018 and I was serving as a conference ambassador, and now we’re back in this venue and I’m serving as a co-chair. It’s kind of wild!

What motivated you to run for the NORDP Board?

I actually decided I wanted to be more involved in NORDP during the pandemic. I saw it as an opportunity, because I was working from home and decided I could use the time I was no longer spending commuting to the office to do more volunteering. So I really just made a conscious decision to really immerse myself more and step up and roll up my sleeves to get the work done. And in doing that, I feel like it’s really fostered a lot of great relationships with my NORDP colleagues. And I realized just how important NORDP has become to me, because of our organization’s vision and mission. I don’t work with any other group or organization that works to be as inclusive and is filled with people that are so thoughtful and united in their desire to push things forward and institute change. I’ve gotten so much out of NORDP and benefitted from the people who have served on the Board before me and put their time and effort into progressing and evolving our organization. I felt like it was time for me to contribute that kind of effort back to our members as well and pay it forward.

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

I think one great step our Board has taken previously is to outline some key initiatives and key result areas (KRAs) that we as an organization can focus on. I’m really looking forward to building on those KRAs going forward. I’m also just really excited to work with our Board, because we have an awesome Board! So many of my fellow Board members are trusted colleagues and friends who I’ve built relationships with since joining NORDP and everyone is so supportive. Our Board is really engaged and interactive, and motivated to keep improving our organization.

New NORDP Board Member Cameo: Kim Patten

Kim Patten, NORDP Board Member

Who: Kim Patten, Assistant Vice President for Research Development

Where: University of Arizona

Number of Years Working in RD: 15 years

Length of NORDP Membership: Nine years

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

My first position was working for a science-informed nonprofit started by a bunch of astronomers and engineers. I worked on the issue of light pollution, and one of my first assignments was to build a coalition of researchers, nonprofits, and governmental entities. Working with my director at the time, we received NSF funding for a workshop (my first NSF grant!). With preliminary data based on connections made at that workshop, an instrument that was designed and funded by NSF. And that was my introduction to RD, forming teams, getting funding, and sponsoring research (and I was hooked).

I went to graduate school, but stopped at my masters, and then joined the Arizona Geological Survey, running a large Department of Energy center that was nationwide, therefore, logging some frequent flyer miles in the process. I enjoyed working with these teams, providing dedicated support throughout the lifecycle of the research process. With just under a year left on the project, a friend told me the University of Arizona was starting a new department within the research office and encouraged me to apply. And I made the leap. There were better benefits at the university than in my other state job, including parental leave benefits, and better work-life-balance. In all honesty, I’m really happy I made that leap. The transition was difficult as I really loved what I was doing at the Survey, and the people, but here I am!

Today, I engage in a lot of strategic initiatives. I’m one of the primary liaisons for the research office with our federal relations arm. So, I have moved (and this is a Jennifer Lyon Gardener and Jeff Agnoli term) further “left of proposal” in my current efforts than in my previous positions. A lot of what I’m doing these days is leveraging federal relations activities for and toward appropriations and authorizations requests. We’re trying to get ahead of the major research activities authorized in the CHIPS+ Ac and Inflation Reduction Act. My work has transition to more of a strategic direction while others on our team focus on relationship development and proposal development.

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

I’ve been a NORDP member since 2014, first presenting at the annual conference in 2015. I missed 2016 because of the birth of my kiddo, but I’ve been to every one since then. I’ve participated in numerous committees, including the Nominating Committee (NomCom), and the Strategic Alliances Committee (SAC). I’ve also been working to help and support both my institution and NORDP with professional career lines and career development activities. If you look back at some of my conference presentations, you’ll see how I worked with HR to get six lines of professional contributor and five lines of management for my RD team. Now, I’m trying to implement those, which is much easier said than done.

I joined the NomCom in 2015 and served as its chair through the pandemic. I was drawn to serve on SAC because of its focus on partnerships and engaged research. Partnership development, especially at the organizational level, was of particular interest to me, as I was transitioning part of my team into more partnership development, including supporting my leadership as they stood up a societal impacts unit. I was really interested in learning from the organization called Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS) about that potential, and that’s how I got recruited to be a NORDP liaison to ARIS. We do now have an Office of Societal Impact at the University of Arizona. It does not report to me, but it’s a parallel office to mine, and we report up to the same VP, which is nice. And we collaborate significantly. All to say, I appreciate NORDP for the personal and professional growth as well as lessons learned from across the organization and with/from other organizations. We are a community of lifelong learners, and it shows.

What motivated you to run for the NORDP Board?

I’ve had my eye on the board for a little while; that’s part of why I wanted to be on NomCom, to see what the process was like. I was serving on another board through 2021, so I felt that I could not feasibly add the commitment, especially one with such a high volunteer load. To serve well takes a significant commitment, and hopefully a commitment that is supported by your employer (mine has been wonderful in supporting me).

My previous board service gave me experience with organizational development and growth, and I can to bring that to NORDP. From a bylaws overhaul to an investment policy, that board work took on a “cleanup” of the organization’s systems and support infrastructure, and I felt that experience would help the NORDP board and NORDP as an organization. That service also provided me with insights into staffing and outsourcing of a small, but mighty, non-profit. I’d argue that NORDP is at a transition point in its growth, and I’m excited to be part of the board that helps us reach the next level of infrastructure and support for our phenomenal community of contributors.

While I hope that my previous board experiences will help, I also hope that my experience in running and leading a comprehensive RD shop is also relevant. One of my goals for my own team is to encompass the four core areas of RD, as defined by NORDP: (1) strategic research advancement, (2) communication of research and research opportunities, (3) enhancement of collaboration/team science, and (4) proposal support functions.

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

I am most excited about the fact that we are primed for success. I think the previous boards and the membership have done a great job of building a fantastic community and making sure that RD is a recognized field. I think that we are at that make-or-break moment, and I’m looking forward to helping make it happen. I think that the existing board members are phenomenal and talented individuals. They have been welcoming and have treated me warmly. I also have a board mentor, so that’s fantastic. I’m really looking forward to supporting NORDP to provide the infrastructure that’s needed for future success. I’m a big fan of collective impact and thinking about backbone organizations. Excited to make that happen for NORDP.

New NORDP Board Member Cameo: Jessica Moon

Jessica Moon, PhD, PMP, NORDP Board Member
Jessica Moon, PhD, PMP, NORDP Board Member

Who: Jessica Moon, PhD, PMP. Executive Director, Stanford Aging and Ethnogeriatrics Research Center

Where: Stanford University

Number of Years Working in RD: Six years

Length of NORDP Membership: Five years

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

My daughter was three years old when I started graduate school at the University of Vermont, and I realized quickly that I did not want to pursue a tenure-track faculty position. I had worked for several years as a writing center consultant for undergraduates, grad students, and postdocs, and I thought perhaps my scientific and writing consultation backgrounds would be an effective combination. Another tipoff was that I really enjoyed my phase 2 qualifying exam—i.e., writing an NIH grant. I happened to see a presentation by Jeralyn Haraldsen (now the Director of Research Development at UVM) about the newly minted research development office. I reached out to Jeralyn—“Your work sounds really interesting! I’d love to hear more about your background and the RD field. Would you be willing to get coffee?” She introduced me to NORDP, and we carpooled down to my first Northeast regional meeting in Amherst, MA. The whole world opened up from there so to speak. 

My goal was to position myself for an RD job straight out of graduate school. There’s not a standard career path or ladder into RD (I recently heard someone refer to it as a “climbing wall”). The common thread from talking to NORDP members was scientific editing experience, so I started by diversifying my editing portfolio. I became a contract scientific editor for Cactus Communications, where I edited journal articles, scientific protocols, responses to reviewers, and other works for university researchers and drug companies across the biomedical and chemical sciences. About a year later, I started a small freelance business editing manuscripts and grant proposals. Basically, I fit in extra editing jobs wherever I could—between experiments, late in the evening, Christmas break…This gave me some hardcore copyediting experience that complemented the consultation and writing pedagogy work at the writing center.

My first research development job out of graduate school was at the University of Arizona in Kim Patten’s office as a Research Development Associate for the biomedical sciences. Jamie Boehmer (a Senior RD Associate at the time) took me under her wing and identified opportunities for me to network across campus. As a former VA Program Officer, she has a wealth of knowledge, and I learned a lot from her. In my two years there, my portfolio grew to include faculty from across the five health sciences colleges, many more types of NIH proposals, and other funders (e.g., HRSA, CDC, foundations).

Now, as Executive Director, I oversee all aspects of the SAGE Center. I refer to my role as RD+, because it encompasses a broad range of research development activities—advising on funding strategy, grant writing/editing, and faculty development, as well as things like program management and evaluation, research compliance, budgets, and scientific event planning. I am also the program officer for our pilot award program, and mentor all SAGE junior faculty and postdocs. One thing that is unique from my prior position at UArizona is that I do actual grant writing and intellectually contribute to the design and implementation of projects and programs. Hence, the scope and my view of RD has grown since coming to Stanford.

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

As mentioned above, I started engaging with NORDP via the Northeast regional meetings and attended my first NORDP conference in 2017. I moved to Tucson, AZ shortly after graduating. My supervisor at the University of Arizona, Kim Patten, is a strong advocate of NORDP and encourages everyone in her unit to be engaged. My first volunteer activity at the national-level was the Affiliated Medical Centers special interest group. As a member of the inaugural leadership team, I helped shepherd AMC through its development into an affinity group. My NORDP mentor encouraged me to explore other committees. In 2021, I joined the Professional Development Committee, Committee on Inclusive Excellence, and Mentoring Committee with the thought that I could try them and see what I liked the best—I’m still a member on all.

What motivated you to run for the NORDP Board?

The encouragement from my NORDP mentor was a big part of it. I enjoy the strategic planning aspects of my work at Stanford and looking at things from a big picture/organizational systems standpoint—my role on the NORDP Board provides this from the non-profit perspective. I also wanted to give back to NORDP, because it has played such an integral role in helping me find and obtain RD positions after grad school. I learned about both of my jobs at UArizona and Stanford through NORDP connections. NORDP’s members are a wealth of information and their warmth and willingness to share ideas is remarkable and wonderful. For all those reasons, I was excited (and a bit intimidated) to run for the Board. I wanted the experience of strategic planning and understanding things from that lens while contributing to the good of the organization.

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

It’s a fantastic group. I have attended three board meetings so far and have been amazed and energized by the team dynamic—everyone takes their duty of care seriously, meaning that discussion and deliberation is very thoughtful and open. I am introverted and have a hard time inserting myself into conversations, because I second guess that what I want to say will be helpful. There is conscious effort by Board members to invite everyone’s input, so I am excited to work with this really awesome group. I’m also excited because NORDP is in this transition period between thinking of ourselves as a smaller organization to a larger and more mature organization…Which I guess means we are in the awkward teen phase. I think part of that has to do with how quickly our membership has expanded—yay us! But we are also experiencing some growing pains, and the Board’s goal is to help NORDP work through that.

New Board Member Cameo: Samarpita Sengupta

Samarpita Sengupta, PhD, NORDP Board Member

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

Where: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Number of Years Working in RD: Seven years

Length of NORDP Membership: Five years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What motivated you to run for the NORDP Board?

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

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

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

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

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