Collaboration and Team Science Peer Mentoring Group:  What Does it Take to Foster Strong, Impactful Collaborations?

By Jeremy Steinbacher (Syracuse University) and Leah Gorman (Oregon State University)

We are seeing new opportunities for transdisciplinary teams to develop proposals that cross disciplinary boundaries to increase the societal impact of research. Our institutions are excited by these opportunities, thinking creatively about how they might nurture environments that foster transdisciplinary work, and looking to research development (RD) professionals to help spark and facilitate these collaborations. For many members of the NORDP Collaboration and Team Science Peer Mentoring Group (CTS PMG), the skill set needed to do this work has not traditionally been a central part of our professional training. In addition, our institutions may not be familiar with how other institutions are approaching this work. Combined, the lack of both training and institutional knowledge leaves many RD professionals with the feeling that we are constantly  reinventing the wheel when facilitating team science. The CTS PMG seeks to address this challenge by offering an opportunity for RD professionals to share best practices and develop strategies toward creating working knowledge of team science at our institutions. 

Below, we address some common questions about the CTS PMG and the work we have engaged in over the last year.


How is a peer mentoring group different from other types of professional development environments you might use to build skills for fostering collaboration and team science?

All of us have access to a variety of professional development opportunities through our employers, professional societies, and educational institutions. Many of these are highly-structured workshops and classes with a designated leader/instructor and, for the most part, strangers as co-participants. On the other hand, the PMG environment offers several characteristics that provide a distinct learning experience. 

First, the PMGs do not have a single, defined topic at the outset; rather, the material is flexible to the needs, experience, and interests of group members. Though the CTS PMG set a schedule of topics for monthly meetings early in the year, we remained flexible to accommodate new topics as the group evolved. 

Additionally, unlike a workshop, class, or a traditional dyadic mentoring relationship, a PMG benefits from a range of perspectives, rather than training on a single approach. Every facilitator brings a different style and the open nature of discussions encourages input from all participants regardless of experience level. Importantly, the setting of ground rules by the group itself early in the meeting cycle helps create a psychologically safe environment where it is ok to be vulnerable. This helps members recognize and express the limits of their knowledge, knowing that the other participants are there to support each other’s growth. 

PMGs also offer the chance to build relationships with other NORDP members beyond the annual conference experiences and the more structured learning opportunities.


What did we learn about collaboration and team science this year? 

The CTS PMG discussed a wide variety of topics over the last year! 

Sharon Pound (University of Tennessee) led a discussion about the relationship aspects of teams, including how to deal with common barriers in communication and expectations, and also the benefits of long-term team building. 

Laura Heinse (University of Idaho) presented strategies for after-action review, such as post-submission debriefs with a team to determine course corrections and evaluate lessons learned. 

Chris Erlien (Duke University School of Medicine) and Eva Allen (Indiana University)  gave an overview of the many issues unique to developing center proposals with large teams, both practical impacts like project management and strategic issues surrounding group ideation and leadership. 

Melanie Bauer (Nova Southeastern University) shared a range of strategies that she has employed to facilitate faculty networking within her institution and with other institutions in her state. 

Leah Gorman and Sarah Polasky (University of Missouri-Columbia) led a discussion about collaboration across disciplines and the strategies we employ when team members working in very different disciplinary cultures. 

Finally, guest speakers Kristine Glauber and Christine Hendron of Intereach introduced us to their community of “boundary spanners” working across disciplines. Chris Erlien provided a nice description of their talk in a recent blog post.


How can NORDP members get involved in a PMG?

The NORDP PMGs are open to all members. We encourage experienced practitioners to participate in these groups as a way to build community and share best practices (#payitforward). To see the available PMGs, visit your dashboard on the WisdomShare platform and scroll down until you see the list of Peer Mentoring Groups, where you can click to join. Our PMG group will kick off again in September, and everyone who has joined will get the notification message.  If you have already joined a PMG or a few, we hope that you continue participating in the same or new PMGs this upcoming year. If you have not yet tried a PMG, we strongly encourage you to attend this year! To all, bring your curiosity, a willingness to share your experiences, and lots of questions. 

The NORDP Mentoring Committee is planning a PMG Orientation in October. Keep an eye out for the event announcement and we welcome everyone to participate!

Career and Professional Development Peer Mentoring Group (CPD PMG):  Reflecting on this Year and Looking Forward

Phew! It is June already.  Where has the time gone?

In the NORDP Career and Professional Development Peer Mentoring Group (CPD PMG), we began the year by coming together, introducing ourselves, and determining what we’d like to do by collecting jam board entries and prioritizing them using a survey. After discussing the survey, we decided to begin by sharing about ourselves — how we got into Research Development (RD), how our careers have progressed, and the structure of our offices.  We moved on to reviewing fireside chats for lessons that we could apply to our careers and professional development, learning from presenters: Kelly Rose, Daniel Arriaga, David Widmer, Peg Atkisson, Rebekah Hersch, Samar Sengupta, Mark Milutinovich, Karen Fletcher, and Susan Carter.

What did we learn from our NORDP colleagues sharing their journeys?

Networking and connecting with others: Networking is important!

  • Get to know people, even if you are an introvert, e.g., set a goal to meet and learn about a targeted number of people at a conference.
  • Reach out to colleagues at your organization and get involved with NORDP. Getting involved with NORDP can simultaneously help you get to know others and what they are doing to further the goals of their organizations, while providing thoughts for how what you learn can be applied at your own organization.
  • Getting to know your faculty and building trust with them will benefit your work.

Professional Development: Believe in yourself — “own your own value”! 

  • Make professional development a priority. Identify a niche area that can pay off for your own growth. You may find that what you learn and how you grow not only allows for your own advancement, but for that of the RD profession as well.
  • Upskilling to learn additional skills is important.  
  • Doing a skills assessment can help identify your strengths and areas where you could grow. See NORDP Mentoring’s self-assessment tool.
  • Mentoring, both providing and receiving, is an important piece of career and professional development. Get mentoring from a number of people (see NORDP Mentoring’s MESHH Network tool for assistance in identifying a mentoring network).
  • Look at new opportunities as learning experiences.

Career Development: Remain open to change!

  • Sometimes serendipity helps us land in a new position; other times a career move is purposeful and may arise out of doing a skills assessment. Putting in the [sometimes hard] work, persevering, and engaging with others at your organization and within NORDP can lay the foundation for future opportunities.  
  • Be willing to get out of your comfort zone and ask for informational interviews.
  • If a position meets your interests/desires, be willing to try for it.

Our professional development discussion led to sharing thoughts on potential connections to other relevant professional organizations. Examples included the International Network for the Science of Team Science (many NORDP members subscribe to the INSciTS listserv) and Intereach — a community of practice whose stated purpose is “to articulate and promote the need for a dedicated career path around interdisciplinary research expertise, and to improve practitioners’ tools, best practices, success metrics, and career trajectories.”

If Intereach sounds interesting, note that Christine Hendren, Intereach co-Chair, presented to the Collaboration and Team Science PMG on May 17, 2022. Dr. Hendren founded Intereach in 2015 “to connect research professionals with expertise in synthesizing and communicating integrated science across disciplinary and organizational boundaries to effectively address wicked problems.” The CPD PMG hopes to learn how RD professionals can contribute to solving issues as one of the many diverse perspectives needed to tackle challenges, potential professional development opportunities within Intereach, and related careers that utilize RD skills. A transcript of this conversation can be found here.

Where will the 2022 NORDP Conference and the rest of the year take us?

The time we’ve spent together talking about goals and strategies on professional development prepared us well for the annual NORDP Conference, which provides a meaningful occasion to gather new ideas to implement on the job, to connect and reconnect with colleagues, to further develop professional networks, and to find new ways to become actively involved with NORDP. 

For the remainder of the year, we plan to focus on discussions that will help position us for the next career move with topics such as articulating RD professional impact, obtaining management experience without formal direct reports, or engaging in RD research and publications. We will push ourselves out of our comfort zones and help increase marketability for the next career opportunity!

Compiled by Christine Erlien (Duke University School of Medicine Office of Research), Deborah Lundin (East Carolina University Office of Research Administration), and Danielle Matsushima (Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons).

Transitioning from Mentee to Mentor

A mentoring reflection from Melissa Li, a Research Manager at the University of Michigan.

Melissa Li

As the 2021 – 2022 NORDP Mentoring Program is coming to the end, I have officially been a mentor for one year at NORDP. Looking back at my journey of becoming a mentor, I’d like to share a few reflections with the NORDP community.

Why be a mentor?

Being a mentor requires time, energy and commitment. What motivates mentors to be willing to make investments in others? Generally speaking, mentors are at a career stage where they have been in a mentoring relationship as mentees formally or informally. They have benefited in their career growth from others’ time and investment. One of mentoring’s positive impacts is to inspire former mentees to help others who may be in similar situations or face similar challenges by  paying it forward. Also, being an effective mentor requires a skill set that is gained through training, practice and constant refinement. Mentors, particularly new mentors, have unique opportunities to hone their skills that may not be developed in a regular work environment. Another benefit of being a mentor is that mentors get to know more people and expand their own networks. Last but not least, learning is not one-way. Everyone has strengths and unique experiences. Mentors can learn new perspectives, new knowledge and new tools from their mentees. 

When to be a mentor?

For those who are considering becoming a mentor, one of the biggest questions probably is “Am I ready?” This was the question that I asked myself before I decided to become a mentor. There are a few factors that can be taken into account. The first is experience. Mentors often share insights based on empirical evidence which requires first-hand experience. So mentors usually have been in their fields for some years. However, the experience is not exclusively about professional experience; experience gained in one’s personal life is often transformable in professional contexts. A mentor’s experience is viewed as a holistic whole. Second, a mentor comes with a genuine willingness to engage in the mentoring relationship. To me, becoming a mentor was a calling. The idea of being able to help others gives me joy. There are at least two-fold meanings of willingness. One is about being willing to share knowledge and experience; and the other is about being willing to discuss one’s own lessons learned, including success as well as regrets and mistakes. Then, I asked myself, “Am I qualified to be a mentor?” This is about the next factor – confidence, which is the certainty one feels about the mentor role. A great way to seek validation is to ask those who you trust. For example, I asked two of my mentors, both of whom are senior leaders in my institution. Both fully supported my decision of becoming a NORDP mentor. Hearing them say “Melissa, you’re ready” gave me reassurance and confidence. Another important factor is commitment. As I mentioned earlier, mentoring requires time and energy. One should evaluate their bandwidth and make sure promised time is honored consistently. If you just changed your job recently or you are starting a major renovation project in your newly purchased house, it’s probably a good idea to delay starting the mentor role.

How to be a supportive mentor?

In my experience, the most fundamental and universal skill is active listening. Active listening enables us to gather information and recognize others’ perspectives and feelings. Remember, listening is to understand, not necessarily to respond. Via effective listening, mentors understand mentees’ questions, needs, challenges and so on. Demonstrating compassion without being judgmental helps develop trust in the mentoring relationship, so that mentees feel comfortable sharing “difficult things”. By effective listening, mentors also can understand what mentees want, including career goals and expectations during the committed mentoring period. Mentees usually are the drivers of the mentoring relationship. The job of the mentor is to align mentoring efforts to help mentees achieve their goals. 

Another way to develop trust and create a safe space is to show vulnerability, which takes courage. This also circles back to the willingness that I mentioned earlier. Being willing to share not only successes but also “detours” along our career journeys will make mentees’ experiences richer so that they become conscious to avoid similar mistakes and they fully trust mentors by telling their struggles. In some cases, mentors don’t know some subject matters, simply acknowledging not knowing the answers is completely fine and normal. Using myself as an example, I asked one of my mentors “What do I do if I can’t answer my mentee’s questions?” My mentor said “You can just say ‘I don’t know.’” I have said “I don’t know” from time to time while trying to find answers by connecting them with others who are subject matter experts.

In addition, it takes a bit of project management skills for logistics. If I promise to follow up with my mentees on resources/information, I either do it right after the meeting or write a reminder on my calendar so that I don’t forget. Also, I take notes during meetings and review the notes 5 – 10 minutes before each meeting to be prepared.

Becoming  a mentor provides a rich and rewarding learning experience!  There are numerous mentor training opportunities and I have benefited through two programs. First, I participated in NORDP’s mentor training program organized by the Mentoring Committee. During the training, I learned that the facilitators were all trained by CIMER, the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research. I was inspired by my CIMER-trained peers and have since become a trained CIMER facilitator too. The training prepared me well as a mentor. I know this is just the beginning of my mentor journey. I look forward to many years ahead being a mentor. 

2022 NORDP Mentoring Days Celebration

Alt text: Image of six humans interacting and supporting each other, juxtaposed with large block letters spelling MENTORING. Image Source: Adobe stock #296042991.

Registration is now live!

The NORDP Mentoring Committee presents the 2022 Celebrating Mentoring Days on Wednesday, June 29 and Thursday, June 30. All NORDP members are invited to attend! 

What: 2022 Celebrating Mentoring Days to kick off the NORDP mentoring activities!

When: Wednesday, June 29, 1pm – 3:15pm EDT and Thursday, June 30, 12:30pm – 3:15pm EDT. Registration will open soon!

Who: NORDP members who are excited about Mentoring

Dr. Mica Estrada, UCSF

We have the great pleasure of having Dr. Mica Estrada back to talk about strategies for cultivating kind and inclusive mentoring relationships. Dr. Estrada is the Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Nursing. We will hold a watch party of her 2022 NORDP Conference Plenary on “Why Kindness Is Important When Mentoring in an Interconnected World”. Dr. Estrada will then join us in a follow-up discussion and Q&A as we dig deeper into how to incorporate strategies for inclusive and kind mentoring in our relationships.

We will kick off with a welcome and cohort activities involving pair orientation for participants in the 2022 – 2023 Mentoring Program. We aim to collectively learn from former, current, and aspiring mentees and mentors in the popular McHuddle format that includes multiple engaging activities and discussions on mentoring. For those looking to get more involved with the Mentoring Program, information will be presented on Peer Mentoring Groups or PMGs. We currently have seven PMGs with various thematic focuses which are open to new members all year. You can easily sign up using the Wisdom Share platform by a simple click! 

We look forward to seeing you at the upcoming Celebrating Mentoring Days!

NORDP 2022 Plenary: Estrada Focuses on Kindness-Affirming Inclusion

Mica Estrada, NORDP April 28 Plenary Speaker

When someone is kind, they support the dignity of another person. When mentors are kind, they convey a sense of safety, which is good for learning, retention, and attention. NORDP conference attendees will learn more about the benefits of kindness and tips to bring new perspectives on kindness to our work.

“Kindness affirms inclusion,” says Dr. Mica Estrada, Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Nursing. She will be the NORDP 2022 conference plenary speaker at 11:00 a.m. eastern time on Thurs., Apr. 28, discussing “Why Kindness Is Important when Mentoring in an Interconnected World.”

As a social psychologist, Estrada studies how people integrate into their field. “We look at how quality mentorship helps students feel they can do the science, develop their identity as scientists, and how they share community values,” she explains.

Estrada says kindness has always been at the forefront of her scholarship. “At about four years old, my first memory was when a US ship went into Chinese water. I remember thinking, will there be a war, why do we hurt each other?” She continues thinking about that later question in her research, and chooses to focus on how people connect to each other, and specifically on kindness as the solution.

She compares her passion for kindness in mentoring to tending a garden. “Instead of spending time pulling weeds, I decided to put effort into growing what we want to reduce the space for the things we don’t want to grow,” she says.

Estrada will share findings from her years of research with NORDP conference attendees, highlighting results that are relevant to mentoring students and faculty or working with other research development colleagues.

“We’ll be talking about ‘quality mentorship’,” she says. The first focus is on instrumental support, or the “nuts and bolts” activities, such as how to access physical spaces or scholarly journals. This will differ in each situation. The second focus is on psycho-social support, such as empathy, listening, and emotional presence. Again, the details will differ based on the relationship, but the concept is important.

Estrada’s research is well funded by the NSH, NIH, and HHMI. She says she finds grantwriting to be a creative, labor-intensive challenge as she explains what she wants to explore while being concrete and persuasive. She draws upon past experiences with non-profit groups and work with development officers. She is also engaged in community-service roles, serving on the National Research Council Committee’s Roundtable on the Future of STEM Education; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine consensus study on Advancing Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM Organizations; and a NASA Minority University Research and Education Programs advisory committee.

Estrada focuses her research and time on understanding how to increase inclusion and equity in our education system.  Her research methods identify educational interventions that facilitate integration into a community and increased engagement in the normative behaviors of that community for all students. She encourages us all to amplify what we want within our academic and professional environment, and she sees ample opportunity to do this.

“We’re at an interesting time in history,” she suggests. “COVID has shaken up the way we work. There’s an opportunity to not go back, but to go forward in a way that serves us as human beings.”

Follow @NORDP_official on Twitter for all the latest #NORDP2022 updates.

NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.

Do You Like M&Ms? Meet the Mentoring Committee at #NORDP2019

Actual M&Ms will feature prominently at the multiple venues where you can engage with the enthusiastic Mentoring Committee!

Members of NORDP Mentoring have been working over the past few months to ensure that anyone with an interest in pursuing mentoring, being mentored, exploring peer mentoring, or in other facets of collaborating with others around professional development, will find a conference replete with diverse opportunities to delve into those topics.

Even before #NORDP2019 officially begins, the Mentoring Committee will host a Mentor/Mentee (M&Ms, get it?) Meet-up on Sunday, April 28, from 4:30-5:30 PM in the South County room, so newly matched Mentor/Mentee pairs can meet in person to get their mentoring relationship off to a solid start.  Past Mentor/Mentee pairs are also invited.

There will be chocolate, fun, and a game with prizes!

Throughout the conference, please join us at any of the following Mentoring Committee events, sessions and areas where we will have information, M&Ms, and Mentoring Committee members available:

Monday, April 29

Workshop:  An Overview of Onboarding Materials and Webinars Offered to Support Mentees and Mentors, 10:00 AM – Noon
An overview for all, from the mentoring curious to the veteran, of the complete set of tools available to assist NORDP members in mentoring, regardless of participation in the NORDP Mentoring Program

Workshop: Adapting the National Research Mentoring Network’s “Maintaining Effective Communication” Module to the RD Professional, 1:15 – 3:15 PM
Participants will use an NRMN training module tailored to RD to build upon their communication skills across diverse dimensions including various backgrounds, disciplines, generations, ethnicities, and power structures using evidence-based strategies. Case studies, group exercises, self-assessment, and rich reflective dialogue will reinforce concepts.

Tuesday, April 30

Mentoring Lightning Storm, 8:30 – 9:30 AM (Concurrent Session 1):  Ten 5-minute lightning talks on discrete topics in mentoring, ranging from “Transitioning from mentee to mentor” to “The mentor/mentee match algorithm/process revealed”

Idea Showcase mentoring program poster, 4:30 – 6:30 PM:  Get a quick overview of the NORDP mentoring program while noshing and making new friends!

Wednesday, May 1

Mentoring Roundtable, 9:30 – 10:30 AM (Concurrent Session 5):  An interactive forum that will give participants an intimate setting and a chance to guide the conversation about three mentoring topics in depth: Peer Mentoring, Transitioning from Mentee to Mentor, and The Value of Diversity and Inclusion in Mentoring

Informal Mentoring opportunities throughout the conference:

  • Mentoring Networking Dinners – On Monday, April 29 and Tuesday, April 30, at 6:30 PM, hosts will introduce you to great restaurants for fine food with a side of mentoring conversation.
  • Research on the Rocks – informally hosted nightly (Sunday, April 28 – Wednesday, May 1) by Mentoring Committee co-chair David Widmer in the Omni bar, ROTR will give anyone who wants a chance to unwind, socialize AND/OR talk even more about the benefits of mentoring.  Stop by after the networking dinners or, on Wednesday, after the Conference concludes, for some libation (cash bar) and information.
  • Career Center Mentoring Table – throughout the Conference, the Mentoring Program will have information available at a table in the new NORDP Career Center. Drop in, learn something about mentoring, and you might even be able to win a prize!
  • Talk to Us – Look for blue (or “marine,” if you need a mnemonic) Mentoring Committee ribbons during the Conference if you have a question or just want to make a conference buddy; we’re a friendly group!

We’re looking forward to seeing you at NORDP 2019! #MentoringMatters (M&Ms)