Research Development and Its Workforce: An Evidence-Based Compendium for Higher Education and Other Environments

Michael Preuss, Kimberly Eck, Mary Fechner, Loren Walker
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Abstract


Research development (RD) is a relatively new area of professional practice in and outside higher education for which “the full extent of practitioner purposes and practices is yet to be delineated” (Preuss, Eck, Fechner & Walker, 2018, p. 2). To address this gap, data was compiled from 442 position descriptions, two surveys that asked about the background, experience, employers, roles, responsibilities, and salaries of RD professionals, and the membership roll of the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP). Quantitative and qualitative analyses were completed as well as comparisons of findings from each of the sources. The result was an overview of the field and the persons who work in it. The average research development professional was a middle-aged, White, female with six or less years of experience in RD who held an advanced degree, who worked full time in a position she had occupied for four years or less and for an entity where she had been employed for longer than four years. More than 75% of the RD professionals were women but minorities were underrepresented as in many other areas of higher education and in STEM-related fields. More than half of the informants were recruited to, grew into, or had positions created for them in RD by their employer rather than being recruited from outside the organization. Approximately 72% of research development professionals in the United States worked at public colleges or universities in 2017, with the same percent working for doctorate-granting institutions. Their employers were located in 49 US states and one territory but there was a group of 14 states in which two-thirds of all known RD professionals could be found. There was also a tendency for large state and private universities that have more selective admission policies and a strong and extended focus on conducting research to employ groups of five or more RD professionals. RD professionals hold positions with a wide range of responsibilities, 62 were demonstrated to be part of the field. The data substantiated that these can be grouped in four categories already used by practitioners, strategic research advancement, communicating about research and research priorities, enhancing collaboration, and support of proposal production. Evidence of employment tiers and development of areas of specialization was found with statistically significant differences in responsibilities demonstrated between persons with the title Director and Proposal Developer/Grant Writer. RD offices tended to be small, most commonly staffed by one to two persons. Centralized offices were the type most frequently reported, 37.6% of respondents, but seven other organizing patterns existed. RD offices with five or more employees occurred at larger, flagship institutions that have had an historic focus on externally-funded research yet, over half of research development offices were reported to have existed for six years or less. Compensation reported for research development professionals was comparable to that noted by McDonald and Sorensen (2015) for Assistant and Associate Professors. Combined, the data facilitated formulation of the first detailed definition of research development that is fully evidence-based including identifying RD’s contribution to the mission of higher education and an operational description of how RD is practiced.


Keywords


Research development professionals, Employment qualifications, Job responsibilities, Salary scale

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License