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ICYMI: What is Research Development?

By SRAI News posted 07-13-2022 12:56 PM


ICYMI: What is Research Development?

Although relatively “new” as a formal discipline in the Research Administration world, Research Development (RD) has been around in varying forms and functions for a long time. Summarized from a recent SRAI Coffee Talk, this article answers a few key questions about this rising area of expertise. 

In case you missed it, SRAI recently hosted a Coffee Talk with a panel of experts to discuss “What is Research Development?” RD functions tend to be much more varied than other more consistent areas of research administration, such as pre-award or post-award. Some correlate Research Development with finding funding opportunities and complex proposal support. While these are often mainstay RD responsibilities, there are many others that also fit under the RD umbrella. Summarized from the Coffee Talk, this article answers a few key questions about the nuances covered under Research Development. 

Q: What is the difference between Research Development and Research Administration?
A: Because of the building nature of RD functions, our Coffee Talk experts distinguished Research Development as more strategic, assessing where an institution or team currently is, where they want to go, and formulating a plan of how to get there. Research Administration is often more operationally focused on specific requirements (including research compliance) that enable research to occur. 

Q: Is there a common definition for Research Development?
A: In a nutshell, no! Because Research Development is tailored to the needs of the institution, there is no universal definition. However, the National Organization of Research Development Professionals provides an excellent description of the field: “Research Development encompasses a set of strategic, catalytic, and capacity-building activities that advance research, especially in higher education. Research Development professionals help researchers become more successful communicators, grant writers, and advocates for their research. They help researchers bring new ideas to life. Research Development professionals also serve their institutions. They create services and resources that transcend disciplinary and administrative barriers and create programs to spur discovery.” (1) 

Q: Are all Research Development jobs the same?
A: No two Research Development positions are the same. Much of what Research Development is depends on an institution’s size and type, needs and experiences within an organization, and its faculty. For instance, at larger research-intensive institutions, it is becoming more common to have a dedicated Research Development office with a comprehensive portfolio of services. Conversely, at smaller institutions or at the unit level, a pre-award research administrator may also carry a subset of RD responsibilities. 

Q: What may a Research Development job entail?
A: Research Development professionals may engage in a spectrum of functions, including federal forecasting for future funding mechanisms, matching and distributing current funding opportunities, team building, connecting researchers with institutional resources, hosting educational events, supporting complex proposal development, consulting on sponsor priorities or funding mechanism responsiveness, and gathering research intelligence. RD practitioners support the institution to create (or strategize to create) the necessary infrastructure to carry out research that meets the organization’s mission and vision. 

Q: How do you differentiate Research Development from Grant Writers?
A: Proposal development is an important part of Research Development. However, RD extends beyond grantsmanship to include the planning aspects: funding forecasting, matching funding opportunities to the idea, team building, and coordinating critical institutional resources. While proposal drafting is left to the investigators, Research Development professionals help shepherd the development of complex proposals, consult on responsiveness to the funding mechanism, and coordinate “red team” reviews and other functions to make the proposal as competitive as possible.   

Q: How can I get started in Research Development (profession)?
A: There are many options for learning more about RD and for dipping your toes in the water. Here are a few:

  • Build your network! There is a wealth of RD expertise within SRAI and other organizations. Search the SRAI directory for the “Research Development” tag and invite someone for virtual coffee.
  • Educational offerings: There are many to choose from, including Coffee Talks, Annual Meeting sessions, and SRAI LevelUP modules, as well as webinars offered by academic institutions and other professional societies.
  • Explore your institutional landscape: Where are your strengths? Areas for opportunities? Learn the sponsors’ priorities for your institution’s main source of funding. Review the available funding opportunities considering who might be a good fit for them. Identify what additional knowledge or training might make your investigators more competitive; you are the expert on the sponsors’ requirements and funding mechanisms. 

Q: What characteristics help a Research Development professional succeed?
A: A Research Development professional is highly personable and capable of working with people at all levels. Critical thinking and strategic analysis are key attributes essential to evaluate the research landscape, priorities, and needs of the institution while optimizing resources for success. 

With sponsored research more competitive than ever, it is an exciting time to be in the research development field. There is an excellent lineup of RD sessions planned for the Annual Conference. I hope to see you in Las Vegas! 


Authored by

Dr. Courtney Hunt, Program Director, Strategic Initiatives
Houston Methodist Academic Institute

Dr. Dhanonjoy Saha, Director, Office of Grant Support
Albert Einstein College of Medicine