Interview with Dr. Kristen Kindrachuk, Research Facilitator and Business Development Officer at the University of Manitoba in Canada
Interviewed by Brandon Walling, Ph.D., NIAID Postdoctoral Fellow
What are you going to do after your postdoc or Ph.D. at NIH?
The “Career Pathways – Explore the Possibilities” series highlights different professions pursued by scientists like you. The first interview in this series focuses on a research development professional, someone who works to facilitate and increase research funding and activities, Dr. Kristen Kindrachuk, research facilitator and business development officer at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Kindrachuk also speaks briefly about her experience as a science communicator and scientific journal editor.
Dr. Kindrachuk was a postdoc at NIAID for four years, where she worked in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases. Prior to her current position, she worked as an adjunct professor, as a health/science communications specialist, and as the managing editor of three American Chemical Society (ACS) journals. Read this interview with Dr. Kindrachuk to learn more about her journey to her current position.
Can you tell us a little about your role as a research facilitator and business development officer?
I work in the dean’s office in the faculty of science at the University of Manitoba, working directly with the associate dean of research and the VP research office. The primary function of my role is to increase research funding for the faculty of science. I take a holistic approach to increasing research funding by supporting researchers with their grant applications, being a resource regarding funding opportunities, creating programs, and organizing events. I work closely with faculty, particularly new faculty, advising on strategy for grant applications, and I also work with others in the dean’s office to promote the faculty’s research. For example, I might work with our communications person to develop marketing materials or website design. So that all falls under the research facilitator aspect of the job. On the business development side, I identify potential research partners in industry or government outside of the university. I do a lot of liaising with local industry as well as funding bodies.
What is currently on your to-do list, both short-term and long-term?
At any given time for short-term projects there are always grants to read and review. There is always follow-up to be done on potential partnerships; for example, if I have introduced an industry partner to a researcher, I make sure that they continue the conversation and are on track with any potential collaborative applications. I’ve also had the opportunity to build research in other ways within the faculty. I created a program for undergraduate students who are doing research in the labs over the summer where undergraduates come and learn about different careers in science in a series of lunchtime talks. Those are things I always have ongoing. Longer-term projects really tie into securing funding and ensuring that our faculty is poised to be best presented for grant applications. I make sure that any collaborative relationships are being managed in an ongoing and positive way and try to develop larger research networks so that faculty can be competitive in larger grants.
What kinds of skills, technical or otherwise, do you think are important to have as a research facilitator and business development officer?
Definitely strong communication skills, both oral and written. You need the written skills to review grants. You need the oral communication skills to be able to communicate to people with different backgrounds. A researcher might interpret a certain response or application in one way, but an administrator might interpret it in a different way. Being able to speak the language of both administrator and researcher is very important. Probably the number one thing, however, is being resourceful. People will come to me with random questions about anything research-related and expect me to have the answer. Most of the time I probably won’t have the answer, but it is my job to find that answer out for them. Being able to figure out where you can find answers is important.
What are your favorite aspects of being a research facilitator and business development officer?
What I love with my job is that I work with seven different departments: microbiology, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, statistics, and math. In working with all these different researchers, I get to see a really broad range of research. So, everything from antibiotic resistance, which is my own area of expertise, to something like spintronics in physics, which is something I never would have even heard of prior to starting this job. It is one of the things I really love about this job. Additionally, the faculty is always very appreciative and they value the support I am providing them, and that is something that makes me be able to go home at the end of the day and feel like I have contributed to research.
What do you find most challenging? Is it the wide breadth of research and the range of grants that you are looking at from a number of disciplines?
I actually don’t find the breadth of research and the actual science to be the most challenging part. I would say the most challenging part is understanding how to navigate the different systems in a university. Most universities or research institutions are such large organizations that they’ll have different departments or offices that are all working as silos. I have to ensure there is proper communication across all these siloed organizations, which can be quite challenging.
You have had a few different jobs since finishing your postdoc. Would you mind telling me a little bit about those jobs? What did you like or dislike about those positions?
Right out of my postdoc, I simultaneously started a job at Ripple Effect Communications as a health/science communication specialist and as an adjunct professor at Hood College. At Ripple Effect I was doing contract work for the NIH. It was a very small company and I had two main projects there. One was doing communications for the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH. I managed, edited, and wrote for a blog for them and made promotional videos. The second project was managing the planning and coordination of the NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration. I handled the budget, selected the hotel and venue for the two-day seminar they were planning. I managed and created the registration site and basically all the other details in the event planning. So, the first step away from the bench was very different than what I did as a postdoc because it really didn’t involve me doing any science and was more interacting with scientists. It did help to build a lot of skills that I did not previously have, but I didn’t really get to use my science background.
At the same time, I was also teaching as an adjunct professor at Hood College. I taught a night course for a Master’s program, and that was probably one of the most challenging things I have done. I was sort of thrown into the fire to create a course with very little time, resources, or preparation, but it was something I did for the experience and also found it to be quite rewarding.
After that, I was actually recruited by a headhunter to be a managing editor at the American Chemical Society (ACS). It was a fortuitous position for me because a new journal had been launched called ACS Infectious Diseases. ACS was looking for someone with an infectious disease research background but also a communication and writing background. I used the experience I had gotten at Ripple Effect and in my postdoc and Ph.D. research in the managing editor position. I was managing ACS Medicinal Chemistry, ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters, and ACS Infectious Diseases. I worked with the editorial boards for the journals and was responsible for the strategic development of the journals. I also managed the editorial advisory boards, which consisted largely of all the heads of the major pharma research programs. So, it was a fairly high-profile position and I really liked that, but it was also much higher stress job with tight deadlines, a lot of travel, and ambitious business goals that needed to be met.
What made you decide to go into your current role as a research facilitator and business development officer?
We were leaving the DC area because my husband took a job as a professor and Canada research chair at the University of Manitoba. When we decided to leave, I had said that I would be interested in a job in grants and program management, given my background with communications and writing experience. It just so happened that this position was available.
What was the application/hiring process like? Was the hiring process different for a job at a research institution compared to your previous jobs?
The research facilitator position was advertised through a typical university posting but, in this case, I happened to know someone who was also a research facilitator and I gave them my CV, so it had gotten to the right people. During the hiring process, I had a phone call with the associate dean of research who was in charge of hiring, and then I had a Skype interview panel, which was fairly informal compared to some of the other interviews I’ve had. With Ripple Effect Communications, they had me take tests to assess my computer and writing skills in addition to a more formal interview. The managing editor interview was a series of meetings with other employees at ACS, and most of the process had been managed through the headhunter. I might add that, with the exception of ACS, I found all of these positions through personal connections, so my advice to fellows is to make sure you’re leveraging your networks.
During your time at NIH you were co-chair of the NIAID Fellows Advisory Committee, worked on the career development retreat, and did the Scientists Teaching Scientists course. You clearly were quite active in utilizing the offerings of NIH. Were there any in particular at NIH, or within NIAID specifically, that helped you prepare you for your career transition? Is there anything you wish you had taken more advantage of?
I did take pretty much full advantage of the resources that NIAID had available. I would say that chairing the NIAID Fellows Advisory Committee was probably the key thing that, when I was leaving my postdoc, I was always able to point to as an example of where I had demonstrated leadership and used skills that were not just my bench science skills. I think that was the one thing that employers felt was valuable in demonstrating that I could do more than just research. One of the other things I had done when I was there was take the chief science officer training course that was offered jointly between Montgomery College and the NIH, and that helped me to develop my own business acumen.
Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about entering a similar career field? What do you think would make them a competitive candidate?
I would say that my advice is to take advantage of every opportunity that you have to extend yourself and learn new skills, that will not only help with landing a future job but will help you to understand what you value in a job. That way you aren’t just developing skills that you think someone is going to want, you are developing a career that you would enjoy.
Is it okay if current NIAID fellows contact you with questions?
Yes! My email is Kristen.Kindrachuk@umanitoba.ca
For more information on research development professionals, check out the National Organization of Research Development Professionals.