Written by: Mentoring Committee Marketing & Communications, Sammy Rodriguez, and Charlene Emerson
The yearly NORDP Mentoring Program offers a structured mentoring experience for NORDP members. While the program officially runs for a year, a lot of participants continue their mentoring relationships long-term. This month, we catch up with one such long-term mentor-mentee pair as they share their reflections on their mentoring journey.
Sammy Rodriguez is currently serving as Interim Director for the Office of Research Advancement & Partnerships at Washington State University. He has been in research development and administration for over 10 years. His PhD is in educational psychology and his Masters in English literature. He is a member of NORDP’s Nominating Committee and also a mentor for NORDP’s mentoring program. He serves as a mentor for Charlene Emerson.
Charlene Emerson is a Scientific Editor and Writing Consultant for the NextGen Precision Health building at the University of Missouri – Columbia. It’s hard to know when her career in research development started exactly, but she has over 5 years of professional experience in science editing. She received her PhD in Molecular and Human Genetics from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She is a mentee in NORDP’s mentoring program.
Q1: What influenced you to apply to be a mentor and a mentee for the 2021 NORDP Mentoring Program?
Charlene: I was very new to my position and to the Research Development field in general. I felt I needed to get advice and perspective about an RD career from someone who I didn’t work with closely, someone who could be relatively unbiased and candid in conversation. The NORDP Mentoring program felt like the perfect opportunity.
Sammy: Having NORDP go over the mentoring program in advance, its structure, the approach to pairing mentors/mentees, expectations, and its flexibility, provided more clarity on what to expect before deciding to sign up.
Q2: What is your favorite part about your relationship?
Charlene: My favorite part of my mentoring relationship with Sammy is how we’ve been able to watch each other grow and share in celebrating that growth. Our conversations have covered a lot of our challenges and ambitions, so it’s been great to be able to keep returning to that consistent support. I’m always looking forward to our next meeting to update him on my latest big project or to hear how his plans have turned out.
Sammy: My favorite part is that I gained a colleague I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Although Charlene is relatively new to the profession, she has so much knowledge and drive, and she’s a leader. Feels like we are mentoring each other. I’m happy that I am able to share some experiences and guidance and get feedback later on what was helpful, how an issue got resolved, or hear about a big win on her plans to advance her goals. It serves as validation and motivation to continue to share what we know with others.
Q3: How has participation in the Mentoring Program helped broaden your horizons about Research Development in general and/or affected your daily work in particular?
Charlene: RD is an incredibly varied field and I’ve learned a lot about the variety of positions and growth trajectories for an RD office. I now have more knowledge about different areas I could grow into and I don’t feel as uncertain about where this career path will take me. In my daily work, I feel much more confident that I’m approaching challenges and opportunities reasonably and that I have a supportive resource for any questions that come up.
Sammy: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work of our office, our institution, but we have to keep a balance even within the professional sphere of our lives. It can’t just be tasks, tasks, tasks. We have to take care of ourselves and our colleagues, taking time for professional development, mentoring, taking a step back for a minute, and consider all those aspects that revolve around our profession. Doing so will ultimately make our careers more enjoyable, fruitful, and lasting. RD is truly a community, and as we grow and gain more and more years of experience, there is a responsibility to share what we know and our ideas. RD and NORDP are at a maturing phase where there is a broader space for mentoring as a key element for growth, looking to the future of RD and as an organization.
Q4: What surprised you about being a mentor or a mentee?
Charlene: I was surprised how easy it was to grow the relationship comfortably. Before the mentoring got started, I was nervous that it would feel awkward or that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. But once I decided to just open up and ask about topics that I’d been wondering about, insecurities about how to move forward with my career, or my perceptions of office politics, conversation came incredibly easy.
Sammy: How well it has gone. I think there’s always a level of apprehension when considering getting into a mentoring relationship. What if the pairing doesn’t work? What will we talk about? Is it going to be awkward? There’s a degree of opening up, whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, an element of vulnerability. Once you get past that initial pause and take the next step, then vulnerability turns into honesty and that builds trust. And I have to go back to a previous point I made, I’ve learned so much from Charlene. I knew that you also learn as a mentor, but I’ve learned in ways I had not anticipated.
Q5: What made you decide to maintain a longer-term mentoring relationship and how has it impacted you?
Charlene: It was an easy decision because I felt like we both still were getting quite a lot out of our conversations. Our monthly meeting doesn’t feel like an obligation or just another thing to get done, it’s a bright spot in the month.
Sammy: When the program was officially coming to an end, I think it was mutual that getting together and having these conversations, exchanging ideas, challenges, and successes had become natural. There wasn’t a reason it couldn’t or shouldn’t continue. I’ve read some advice that mentoring should have an end date, and I can see that, if the goals have been met, etc. But as I mentioned earlier, I’ve gained a colleague, a very knowledgeable, thoughtful colleague who has contributed to my professional development. We’re genuinely interested in contributing to each other’s success. Having someone to go to, vet an idea, ask a question, who knows you and at the same time is not biased due to proximity, is a great resource to have. I have gained a trusted colleague I can go to, and I’m also available to assist her in any way she feels I can be of help.
Q6: Any words of wisdom or encouragement for those wanting to apply next year? Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Charlene: Set expectations early on, then just relax and have a good conversation. And definitely don’t get caught up in thoughts that you’re taking up your mentor/mentee’s time, you’ve both chosen to be part of the mentoring relationship and there’s a lot to gain on both ends.
Sammy: Go for it. Getting outside our comfort zone is necessary for growth. Although each mentoring relationship is unique, there’s one common thread: whether as a mentor, mentee, or both, we all have an interest and are making a commitment to mentorship. It may feel like a gamble, but the odds are you’ll have a great experience!
Applications for the 2023-24 cycle will open in the spring; keep an eye out for emails from the NORDP listserv. Additional mentoring opportunities are available through the Peer Mentoring Groups that are open for participation throughout the year via the WisdomShare platform.
Investment in mentoring is an investment in you! So, as Sammy says, “Go for it!”