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Five Reasons Why RAs Should Learn About Research Development

Darci Parsley
June 29, 2022

Guest post by Darci Parsley, Research Administrator, Sr. at ASU.

As Research Administrators, we often have our hands in many facets of proposal development:

  • Organizing the internal and external project team,
  • Drafting budgets and budget narratives,
  • Navigating internal processes,
  • Providing compliance advice, and
  • Acting as a project manager for the proposal’s duration.

For large proposals, there are even more areas to consider. How can the project team leverage actionable insights to inform future decisions and proposal strategy? How can graphics be incorporated to enhance understanding of project goals and deliverables? What is the best way to manage the proposal to ensure a win? This is where research development comes into play. Research development asks how can we strategically leverage the collective knowledge, connections, and skillsets to further the research enterprise before, during, and after a proposal is submitted?

Research Administrators play an active role in research development. In 2021 alone, we facilitated proposal submission for almost 4,000 proposals and managed over 2,700 awards at Arizona State University (ASU). However, the research development knowledge sphere is much broader than research administration and, with this many proposals and awards, we could use all the help we can get. This is where the Knowledge Enterprise (KE) Research Development (RD) team can help.

I recently had the opportunity to partake in the Knowledge Enterprise’s Research Development Partnership program, a 30-hour program that enables anyone at ASU to shadow and learn from the KE Research Development team. This experience opened my eyes to corners of research development that I was unfamiliar with and left me with new tools, strategies, and connections that I could use as a Research Administrator.

These are my top five reasons why Research Administrators should learn more about other aspects of research development

1. Discover new areas of research development that we don’t often interact with

Prior to participating in the KE RD Partnership program, my knowledge of the Research Development team consisted of my interactions with their extremely knowledgeable proposal managers and talented graphic designer. However, their team consists of many more team members than this.

As RAs, we often only interact with Limited Submissions when we discover an opportunity that isn’t captured within the Limited Submission opportunity search, but there’s much more that happens behind the scenes. After a PI submits a concept via the limited submissions process, a specialized review session is organized. Each session is led by a chairperson, a rotating position that is determined through an application and nomination process, who leads the reviewers through a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. This group also manages internal competitions and nominations like research project nominations and faculty award nominations, serving as transparent representatives to ensure department politics are removed from the process. 

Event Management oversees and manages logistics for all research development related events. This includes the annual Proposal Development Workshops (PDW), opportunity kick-offs, and other ad-hoc events. This team ensures that event information is advertised through Research Academy, that a technology expert is available behind the scenes to troubleshoot any technical difficulties, and that the event is shared broadly with the RA community.

Strategic Intelligence, formerly known as Competitive Intelligence, provides ethical collection and analysis of information to inform decision making for faculty and ASU leadership. They help faculty with making their proposals more competitive through data analysis. Broader capacity analysis reports help ASU leadership make decisions about the direction of research at ASU more generally. The data that they can gather and the reports that they generate are invaluable for providing insight into research trends within departments and across ASU.

2. Discover new strategies for managing the proposal development process

The way that proposal managers, and the RD team overall, approach proposal development is different than how RAs approach it. As a result, there are some different strategies that they use to manage the process. Proposal calendars are one of the major differences. These are incorporated as a separate tab within the (very detailed) proposal checklist and provide a day-by-day guide from proposal kick-off to submission.

Structured like a typical month calendar, they include

  • internal due dates for routing and graphic design incorporation,
  • RFP deadlines like questioning periods and information sessions,
  • any scheduled time off across the primary proposal team, and
  • any other important dates related to the proposal.

This provides a more holistic overview of the proposal management process in addition to deadlines set for individual documents. While this takes more time to assemble, it can allow the proposal team to remain aware of multiple deadlines that impact the proposal process beyond the final proposal deliverables.

3. Experience a different team dynamic

Whether part of a team or operating solo, RAs are used to a particular team dynamic when working in proposal development. Being exposed to different management styles or group structures can provide valuable insights that can be applied to your own team. These experiences allow us to see proposal development in new and interesting ways and inform process development within our own departments.

4. Acquire new meeting facilitation strategies for increased collaboration and engagement

While each group within KE Research Development manages a subset of the research development process, they also join forces to share information, tackle complex problems, and prevent information silos. Through the KE RD Partnership program, I had the opportunity to shadow many of these meetings which exposed me to some incredibly interesting facilitation strategies for collaboration.

One of the most notable that I witnessed was a strategy called 1-2-4-All which I talk about in more detail in another blog post. This is a facilitation strategy that increases engagement by allowing individuals to self-reflect before discussing in pairs, in groups of four, and as a whole group. It helps to prevent groupthink and foster more equitable meeting communication by using small group structures to ensure everyone’s ideas are heard. The level of engagement that I’ve witnessed in meetings that use this method is astounding.

5. Expand your network of research development professionals

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the power of networking as a research development professional. As part of the KE RD Partnership, I was incorporated into the KE Research Development team as if I was a permanent team member. I was invited to all team meetings, included in their MS Teams chat, and had individual meetings with the team’s subject matter experts to learn more about my primary areas of interest. Through this opportunity, I was able to establish deeper connections to the KE Research Development team and form new relationships with RD professionals that I hadn’t previously worked with at ASU.

Another fantastic opportunity available through the partnership was the ability to participate in the annual, virtual National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) Conference and receive a one-year membership to NORDP. Offered through the professional organization for research development professionals, this conference provides a mechanism for RD professionals to come together in a central location to share knowledge, experiential insights, and new skills for managing proposals. Developed around a supportive community of RD professionals, sessions are focused on sharing information, identifying problems, and finding actionable solutions.

Due to the more comprehensive nature of the conference, the structure and content is different from most sponsor-focused conferences that RAs typically attend and provides an experience we don’t often have access to. Many of the sessions are focused on overall well-being as an RD professional and incorporating kindness and diversity into research development.

To give you an idea of what the 2022 conference offered, here are some of my favorite session titles:

  • Fostering Wellbeing: Perspectives for Mentors and Mentees
  • Inspiring Collaborative Conversations: How to Create a Good Framing Question
  • Insane in the Brain – Time Management for RD Professionals
  • We Need a Newsletter!
  • Courting Reluctant Faculty in the Creative Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities
  • Onboarding New Employees in Research Development Offices

Throughout this week-long conference, I made connections with RD professionals at other institutions and picked up a few new tools to aid in virtual collaborations. I can already see how attending this conference will have lasting effects – not only through the knowledge and connections gained through the conference itself but through my continuous involvement as a NORDP member over the next year. This experience is something that RAs won’t want to miss.

For more information about the Knowledge Enterprise Research Development Partnership program, please reach out to Faye Farmer, Executive Director of Research Development, at Faye.Farmer@asu.edu.