A mentoring reflection from Marie Teemant, Associate, Research Development Services, Research, Innovation & Impact (RII), University of Arizona.
I have thought a lot about mentorship in the last few years. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the University of Arizona. My personal experience and my observations of others’ in this realm appears to be uneven, to say the least. I hear from various colleagues of their own levels of satisfaction or want in terms of the levels of support, engagement, openness, and feedback they receive from their mentors (often an advisor or committee member). Of course, this type of mentorship also appears to serve as an often-singular pipeline of student to academic.
My experience as a new research development professional has significantly opened my eyes to the amount of discovery that can be found within a well-considered and planned mentorship program. I am quite new to this field, having found this path as a graduate fellow in my department at the University of Arizona, assisting in the communications of development opportunities, before moving into my current full-time position supporting faculty in external Honors & Awards. The structure within my department has been open in terms of sharing experiences to support one another as we build campus networks and improve our methods of faculty support. If the learning curve is steep stepping into a research development role, I have always felt like those ahead of me have built in markers and hand holds to follow while working through this learning.
It has been the NORDP mentorship program, however, that has helped me identify growth areas, connected me with extensive resources, assisted in the beginnings of my research development network, and has anchored me in my own professional development. Recently, my NORDP mentor, Samarpita Sengupta, invited and encouraged me to seriously consider being a mentor myself next year. On the face of it, my limited experience and green-ness made me immediately enumerate what I lack in terms of my ability to help someone else. However, as I discussed the idea with Samar and thought about how mentorship has nurtured me over the last year, I have come around to a new way of thinking about what someone as new as myself might offer.
To that end, I would like to elaborate on three key ways I have benefited from my participation in the mentorship program: building skills with my mentor, centering professional development in my career life, and identifying gaps in my knowledge.
Building Skills with my Mentor
My art history professors never explained how hydrophobic cells interact with various medications, the terms of details of the gut microbiome, or novel methods for measuring antibodies. Like many other research development professionals, my academic career does not always align with the disciplines of faculty I support on nominations or proposals. On particularly challenging nominations, the organization may ask for a robust explanation of the science, which, at times, I found myself at a loss for how to best direct and support the faculty. While co-workers with such expertise were always willing to look over the technical jargon and support the faculty as well, I looked to my mentor to learn to read scientific literature more competently and improve my editing skills on this front.
Samar was more than willing to look over an anonymized, past nomination with me. She broke down the process of understanding enough to get past the area-specific language and ask questions that would improve the proposal. She introduced me to the structure and types of writings within medical sciences, for one, which could help me gain a quick grasp on some of the basics to make the topics less intimidating. Most importantly, she was a person I could turn to without judgement and with the background knowledge to help me see what I could not before.
Since this early conversation, these skills have provided me with confidence to move forward advising on narratives, proposals, and other materials that may require deeper knowledge in areas outside my training background.
Centering Professional Development in my Career Life
Even with the mentorship program, it is easy for my personal growth to take a back seat to the myriad of deadlines, last-minute requests, and meetings that occur in my day-to-day. I will confess to not always being the most diligent mentee in making consistent times for robust professional development activities, but simply having monthly check-ins with my mentor keeps what I want in my professional life in the forefront (… okay, maybe middle front, some weeks).
Months where I have more time to dedicate to specific activities and bring the results back to my mentor have often been the ones with the most growth attached to them. Afterall, a mentor cannot give to you what you have not prepared to receive. However, even during the months when I had a smaller capacity for my own professional development, the regular meetings have allowed me to check in with myself and not let a significant amount of time pass between revisiting my own goals for building my knowledge and career.
Identifying Knowledge Gaps
There’s a challenging time in the early stages of learning that I consider the “you don’t know what you don’t know” phase. Whether it’s terminology, processes, systems, or organizations, there is plenty to learn and sometimes the only real barrier is not knowing the questions to ask or resources to seek out.
In addition to having a built-in guide to the world of research development in my mentor, the structured program itself has provided a roadmap to think through where I am, where I’m headed, and where I see myself long term. The à la carte approach to these materials has been helpful in the early stages to familiarize myself with the overall field. I have made a more concerted effort as I approached and passed my first anniversary as a research development professional to take time with these workshops and reflect on where I have come from as well as where I would like to go.
Going all in
I look forward to the upcoming year as part of the mentorship program. As I have considered the invitation to step into the role as a mentor, I reflect on the real basis and need for mentorship. While this can include deep skills and knowledge of the profession, some of the best mentorship I have received is simply having someone whose expertise, involvement, network, viewpoint, and pathway has been different from mine. We are also in a unique position as professionals where our numbers are consistently and robustly growing, creating a need for our peer mentorship in the process.
So next year I look forward to expanding my participation in the mentorship program as both mentor and mentee. On the one hand, I hope to continue inscribing my path on my RD roadmap, while also helping someone else consider theirs.
The 2022-23 NORDP Mentoring Program is now open for applications! Current users of Wisdom Share have the ability to change their profile to make themselves available for being a mentor, mentee or both. For first time users, a registration step is required. We highly encourage everyone to sign up to be a mentor! Application period closes by May 16th.