MALS Career Spotlight: Derek Gatlin

headshot of Derek Gatlin

What is your current position? What do you enjoy most about your current position? What do you find most challenging?

As a program manager at Grant Engine, I help companies acquire grant funding to develop new medical devices, test new therapies, or commercialize promising technologies that will enhance our quality of life. I enjoy the opportunity to play even a small role in helping to develop new therapies that will help people all over the world. One of the most challenging parts of this role is to anticipate the questions that reviewers will have about the technology and think of ways that we might position the proposal to maximize leverage of the technology’s innovation while also minimizing risks (e.g., reducing bias, protecting privacy, minimizing risk of adverse affects or harm).

What is a typical work day like for you? 

I work from my home office, so my typical work day thankfully includes spending time with my daughter and our dog. I mostly spend a lot of time preparing for video conference calls with clients across the country, which includes reading through previously developed materials (e.g., reports, presentations, papers) and governmental solicitation documents. Once I have a thorough understanding of both the company and how their technology fits with the interests of the government, I then lay out the strategy for bringing out the information we need to produce the most compelling proposal for the funding agency. My tools include carefully crafted emails and spreadsheets with a timeline and checklists, along with a well organized online file storage system. On the one hand, I need to quickly respond to clients’ questions and initiate the immediate next steps, such as providing feedback on Word documents and developing budgets and other appendices. On the other hand, I need to keep in mind the long-term strategic positioning of the company in relation to the review committee and success throughout the delivery of the grant’s objectives and beyond.

How did the MALS program at NC State prepare you for your current position?

One thing we have learned from the rapid development of COVID-19 is that our world can change quickly. We need the ability to respond effectively with agile thinking to help us learn something new while being mindful and challenging of our own assumptions. During these difficult times, I am especially grateful that my journey through the MALS program has equipped me with the interdisciplinary perspectives that I have needed to be successful at my job. When I graduated from MALS and landed this new job, I had no idea that I would be helping to fight the most devastating pandemic of our times. However, MALS helped me improve upon my abilities to bring together disparate information and find the common thread by which we can weave a compelling story, and to communicate such a plan in ways that are effective for people from various backgrounds.

What was your favorite part of the MALS program?

My favorite parts of the MALS program were the seminars. The most rewarding feeling comes when a small group of people can deeply read a handful of articles, or a passage of a book, and come together to learn more about both the content of the materials and the connections with our lives.  

What advice do you have for students considering a career in your field?

In the field of research development or grant proposal writing, you never know what knowledge will someday become critical to a project on which you are working, so it is best to remain open and curious about everything and to spend some time digging deep into the current science on that topic. While you do not need to be an expert in all fields, it helps when you can learn enough to quickly articulate the current status, problems or barriers, and next steps needed to address those issues.

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