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Partnering with a Research Development professional: what you can get and expect

Stephanie Hensel is the School of Education’s Research Development Manager. In this post, she talks about what research development is and how you, as a researcher, can take advantage of CEDER’s services.


The ‘R’ in CEDER stands for Research. While CEDER does not typically initiate research projects, CEDER supports research in two ways: research development and research administration.

What is Research Development?
To put it simply, research development (RD) provides strategic and big-picture support to researchers, starting in the “pre-pre-award” stage through the proposal process, and includes communication of research and research findings. RD activities can include finding funding opportunities, facilitating interdisciplinary team formation, or hosting faculty workshops. The best source of information about the rapidly growing field of RD is the website for the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP).

What is Research Administration?
Research administration typically is focused on helping researchers follow the rules and stay compliant with the guidelines for applying for grants. The financial management of awarded projects is also a big job and falls under research administration.

The following diagram illustrates some differences between the two areas of support.

CEDER often finds itself right in the middle of these two categories of research support. Part of the reason CEDER was formed was to help support researchers on campus who wanted to collaborate with the School of Education. As a result, providing research support to members of the U-M community has been part of CEDER’s “bread and butter” from its inception. The line between RD and RA is often blurred, but CEDER has built capacity in that space for being a high-quality resource for research services. Whereas research administration is a long-established profession, this post will mainly focus on RD activities in CEDER.

RD professionals are thinking of researchers as people, especially in terms of where they are in their careers, what work they are currently doing, and how they fit in at their department, school, and university. CEDER RD staff work closely with the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies about what resources might be helpful for existing faculty, keeping in mind career trajectories and departmental expectations.

RD activities are often thought of as “pre-pre-award”. A lot of thinking and planning can and often should happen before there is even a call for proposals. RD professionals are prepared to work with researchers to find funding opportunities for collecting pilot data, find collaborators, and discuss career planning.

Being strategic about research opportunities is harder than it sounds. CEDER often has to consider the big picture while thinking about upcoming calls for proposals and how to field requests from external collaborators. CEDER staff members work to take all sides into account and make decisions in conjunction with the Associate Dean when necessary.

Many CEDER team members have developed proposal resources. CEDER worked hard to prepare boilerplate documents for proposals, create how-to guides for common research activities, and maintain proposal libraries for submissions that are popular among SOE researchers. In addition, the design and evaluation teams have created strong plans for several grant proposals over the years.

Having an external reader/editor can make a difference. A fresh set of eyes can do wonders for a draft proposal. Even if the topic area is unfamiliar, CEDER staff can provide feedback on the flow, the story, and the logic of a proposal. Proofreading and editing services are available if documents are ready in advance of the proposal deadline.

Pulling together large-scale proposals can take a lot of work, and RD professionals are especially well suited for assembling team members, orchestrating brainstorming sessions, and setting deadlines. The best leaders of diverse research teams tend to be researchers who have the skills necessary to inspire a group to work together successfully, but these people are likely already very busy people. With an RD professional you get a proposal expert and project manager rolled into one, which can really make a difference for a timely, high-quality proposal submission.

Team science is more complex than a group of people working together. Great discoveries can happen when people from various backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal. However, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research is complex, even when the group is small, because each member of the team is embedded in their own disciplines’ models, frameworks, language, etc. CEDER provides consultations and workshops to help teams develop a theory of change, design a logic model, or create a value proposition. SOE researchers and other community members are able to take advantage of these services.

An important aspect of research funding is communicating about researchers’ work. With the help of SOE’s communications office, CEDER helps promote faculty’s grants and projects. Each grant that’s awarded is announced in the SOE News and social media outlets.

The University of Michigan is known as one of the top research universities in the world. Both research development and administration are required to support U-M’s research enterprise that had over $1.5 billion in research expenditures in FY21. CEDER is proud to be part of that enterprise by helping researchers find external funding for their research. Our door is always open to new partnerships. If you would like help on your next research endeavor, please contact us.