Research Developers as Hubs of Support to Launch and Level Up Faculty’s Research Careers and Nurturing Institutional Ecosystems

Principal Investigator/Project Director

Melanie Bauer

Colleges / Centers

Division of Research and Economic Development


National Science Foundation (NSF)

Start Date



PROJECT SUMMARY Overview: Starting a research career parallels a business in its early stages. Researchers emerge from graduate school or a postdoctoral fellowship with a great idea that they are passionate about, navigate a competitive job market, and land their first assistant professorship. They are now the boss of their research program for the first time and need to secure funding, build their professional network, and plan for success. However, what proceeds upon starting this first appointment is an inundation of teaching, and sometimes service, that pushes research to the back burner. If faculty do not get a helping hand in their research, or enough of one, they may fail to launch. This picture is further complicated for minority and female scholars who encounter a unique set of challenges, ranging from acclimating to new departmental and campus cultures to oftentimes carrying a heavier load of service (including, ironically, participating in initiatives related to DEI). Research development (RD) professionals, who are staff at higher education institutions tasked to support faculty research endeavors, are uniquely suited to support these early-career faculty and enhance the research ecosystems in which they are embedded. They serve as coaches, connectors, and champions for new faculty and are often the go-to for figuring out available research resources. However, RD is only as good as its resource toolbox. That toolbox is only a couple of decades old, with a professional organization only about ten years old. It currently has emerging insights about supporting faculty on common topics such as funding searches, proposal development, and facilitating collaborations. But it does not have a roadmap for launching faculty careers, especially those from groups underrepresented in STEM. Furthermore, access to an RD professional is still a privilege. While RD positions and offices are sprouting at institutions across the country, not all have the resources (or ever will) to dedicate to full-time RD staff. Some have research administrators who provide some aspects of RD support, but who also carry the heavy burden of pre- and post-award administrative activities. For those with dedicated RD resources, oftentimes these are “offices of one”: one RD professional serving hundreds of faculty members. Despite these obstacles, the RD profession can provide a means for all institutions to use its best practices, adapt RD activities for their unique needs, and upgrade their institutional research support ecosystem at any developmental stage. The proposed convenings, in partnership with state and national professional societies, will capture ideas for answering several questions in service of emerging research institutions, their diverse professoriate, and the RD professional knowledge base: How can staff members with various position descriptions engage in RD-type activities to coach, connect, and champion the faculty they support, especially those early in their research career? What are actionable metrics for individual faculty in terms of planning their research activities and for institutions in terms of strategic investment in their research enterprise? How do you leverage the resources and expertise held by local, state, and national networks to the benefit of demographically diverse, early-career faculty in all types of institutional settings? Intellectual Merit: The proposed guiding questions will form the three themes of the convenings, aimed to increase the understanding of how RD activities can support underrepresented early-career faculty and their diverse institutional environments. The first theme will focus on how to plant seeds for RD support in any institutional context as well as identify high impact activities for launching faculty research careers. The second theme uses data science to optimize strategy for the individual faculty member (e.g., competitive intelligence) and institutional planning (e.g., ROI) in relation to RD and related activities. The final theme will consider how RD professionals (and the profession) can be a hub of support, drawing on resources from across campuses and other professional fields/networks (e.g., research administration, team science), to benefit new faculty. Broader Impacts: This project has the potential to be nationally transformative given its engagement of national professional societies and broadly relevant focus on early-career faculty and emerging research institutions. In the case of each project theme, consideration of the unique barriers for and opportunities afforded to minority and female faculty will be explicitly addressed. This will be part of the convenings’ overall goal of customizing and “leveling up” faculty and institutions, wherever they are in development of their research programs. This will be accomplished through engagement of and among diverse faculty and staff/administrators situated in various institution types (including MSI, PUI, and research-emerging).

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