Mentor Dyad Reflections: Jessica Brassard/David Widmer

We hope you are enjoying the opening months of the 2021-2022 NORDP Mentoring Program and that you have had a chance to meet in your dyad! We are excited to share a piece of Mentoring Reflection by introducing Mentor David Widmer, Manager of Research Development and Outreach at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Mentee Jessica Brassard, who recently transitioned from Michigan Technological University to a Graphic Designer position in the University of Michigan’s Research Development Office. Jess and David were paired for the 2020-2021 mentoring year and are continuing their engagement beyond the official program.

Short bios

David Widmer, PhD, is the Grants & Contracts Manager of Research Development & Outreach at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and has 20 years of research administration and research development experience.  David manages the G&C Funding Development Team (FDT) now in its 12th year of providing proposal development and funding acquisition support to MSK researchers. David’s outreach and training has focused on developing specific populations of investigators including junior faculty and post-doctoral researchers. David was part of the first NORDP mentoring class in 2011, has served on the Mentoring Committee since 2015, and served as MC co-chair from 2017-2021. This was his fifth year as a mentor. David is a Fulbright Scholar, a recipient of a Swiss Confederation fellowship, and has an MS in Cell & Developmental Biology, an MA in Humanities and Social Thought with a concentration in the History of Medicine, and a PhD in Behavioral & Molecular Neuroscience. 

Jessica Brassard is the Graphic Designer in the University of Michigan’s OVPR Research Development office. Jessica has a long background in fine art, design, and marketing and transitioned to research development in 2015 when she joined the Michigan Technological University RD team. She has experience with what we might think of as “core” RD responsibilities (faculty development, proposal development, strategic initiatives, workshops and training) but she has always loved the chance to work on visuals for proposals and science communication. She creates visuals that increase clarity and saliency for proposals and OVPR initiatives. This will be the fourth year that Jessica has participated in the NORDP Mentoring Program. She has been both a mentee, a mentor, and participated in a PMG or two. This year, she joined the Mentoring Committee and is focusing on the McMc (Mentoring Committee Marketing (sub)Committee). In all aspects of her life, Jessica strives to find ways to improve the world around her. 

  1. What influenced you to apply to be a mentor and a mentee for the 2020-21 NORDP Mentoring Program?
  1. JB — I believe I can learn something from everyone I meet. The NORDP Mentoring Program does a great job of creating opportunities to meet, build relationships, and learn from each other. 
  2. DW — My experience with the NORDP mentoring program previously has been very positive. I was in the first mentoring class in 2011 and my mentor helped me during a pivotal transition in my career of moving from Research Administration to Research Development. When I came to the Mentoring Committee in 2015, I started up again first as a mentee and then transitioned as both mentor and mentee. This upcoming year will be my fifth year as a mentor. My experiences with all my mentors drive me to want to pay it forward and the learning that happens with my mentee makes me want to mentor again. And by learning, I mean I learn from my mentees because I do every time. The mentoring experience shows that we all have something to share and that you might be in a better position to serve as a mentor now than you may think.
  3. What was your favorite part about your relationship?
  1. JB — As I have gotten to know David, I have enjoyed learning about his background. David has generously shared his published work which I have read and found fascinating. I enjoy spending time reflecting on the challenges he has faced over the past year in his institution and the issues I face in my institution. Having David’s perspective helps me reflect more clearly because he sees things from an outside point-of-view while still having the context of our RD mission. 
  2. DW — The camaraderie! Jess and I really clicked and talked about so much more than RD. I feel we have crafted an important connection that will last beyond the mentoring year. I even benefited from her baking skills and received a care packet for the Holidays.
  3. What surprised you about being a mentor or a mentee?
  1. JB — During the process of using the NORPD mentoring packet to reflect on my own progress, goals, and network, I am surprised by the progress I’ve made year to year. And again at the end of a mentoring year, I am surprised by the incredible benefit of the conversations we’ve had, despite shifting work priorities and adjusted meetings over the year. 
  2. DW — What’s surprised me from the start of mentoring was the reciprocal learning that happens. I taught enrichment to seventh and eighth graders in graduate school and staying one step ahead of them in topics and subjects was a challenge since they gave me perspectives I never had before. Mentoring kids I think put me in good stead to be a NORDP mentor although previous mentoring experience is not by any means a prerequisite for supporting your RD colleagues in mentoring.
  3. How has participation in the Mentoring Program helped broaden your horizons about Research Development in general and/or affected your daily work in particular?
  1. JB — In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have struggled with the amount of work I can maintain in our new way of living and working. The Mentoring Program has helped “right-size” my expectations to the realities. While this is being done at my institution and within my unit, it is also extremely helpful to get perspective with both David and my other mentee. 
  2. DW — Bringing back to one’s home institution is an important benefit of NORDP membership and the Mentoring Program has helped me learn and grow in RD, and have colleagues to share and brainstorm ideas with to take back to MSK. The dyads and the Peer Mentoring Groups are great for that but they wouldn’t be such a success if it weren’t for the fabulous open and sharing NORDP membership.
  3. Any words of wisdom or encouragement for those wanting to apply next year? Any other thoughts you would like to share? 
  1. JB — Don’t get caught up in the tasks you might add to your list of to-dos or the additional meetings you need to schedule. Think of this as a year-long opportunity to get to know another human and add to your network!
  2. DW — If you think you are not ready to mentor, think again. Everyone has something to share, differing experiences to discuss, and perspectives that will broaden the horizons of another program. I thank Jess for broadening my horizons in our mentoring partnership this year.
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