Mentoring Takeaways from NORDP 2022

A reflection from Jessica Brassard, Mentoring Committee

Kindness. Vulnerability. Knowing ourselves deeply. Giving space to others. Invitation. There wasn’t an official theme to the NORDP 2022 Conference, but these threads of humanity wove through every session I attended. Being honest with our humanity and interconnectedness draws us to mentoring. I’ll take this opportunity to pull out sparks from under a mentoring lens in the keynote and three plenary sessions. 

Keynote (Monday) – Broader Impacts: A Strategy for Research Development – Susan Renoe

Dr. Susan Renoe, our esteemed keynote speaker and the recipient of this year’s Research Development Champion Award, opened the conference on Monday with Broader Impact (BI) advice. She balanced the broad strokes of BI with the nitty gritty of agency expectations. We often find ourselves in mentoring and matchmaking positions with researchers—helping faculty connect with the assets around them on campus, in community, and across a national network of practitioners. Whether trained in mentorship or not; whether part of a formal program or in a moment of serendipity; whether in NSF-defined BI or by doing things we love — we mentor to help the people around us realize their impact in the world. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog post about Dr. Susan Renoe here

Plenary (Tuesday) – Minority Researchers and Equity in the STEM Field – Dyhia Belhabib

In her talk, Dr. Dyhia Belhabib exposed culturally ingrained behaviors. Some behaviors we might recognize in people we work with everyday, while other behaviors might have been surprising to find in ourselves. Either way, Belhabib’s own stories, research, and vulnerability created a pathway for us to think about our own environments and behaviors within existing social frameworks. In mentoring, we must recognize in ourselves these potentially harmful behaviors and actively mitigate their impact to others. This holds true for mentors and mentees. A mentoring relationship is a safe place to be able to hold up a mirror together and think through our perceptions and how we might want to change our behaviors and reactions. One of the key takeaways, especially for our mentoring relationships, is to ask members of minoritized groups how they want to be represented and involved. Ask your mentee next time you speak with them — “How would you like me to represent you when speaking about or involving you with others?”

Plenary (Wednesday) – Examining barriers and identifying solutions towards achieving equity in STEM – Sherilynn Black

Dr. Sherilynn Black’s plenary talk highlighted that, very often, our DEI programming is structured so that we don’t actually jump into the discomfort of change, and thus change is slow or nil. Individuals within a space who want to change culture and climate often come with ideas and resources from a limited source (e.g. reading one book or paper does not make an expert!).  Mentoring is all about change. We enter mentoring relationships to find support for the change we want to make — whether in ourselves, in our professional definitions, or in the programs and systems we execute. While we talk about using the NORDP mentoring resources á la carte, perhaps this is a good reminder that we should come to our mentoring conversations fully prepared to do the hard work that is necessary to make meaningful change. Let’s push ourselves to use the self-assessment every year, update our MESHH network regularly, and consider diving into the Mentor Training program if we haven’t already. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog post about Dr. Sherilynn Black here

Plenary (Thursday) – Why Kindness is Important when Mentoring in an Interconnected World – Mica Estrada

Dr. Mica Estrada was invited to speak at #NORDP2022 by members of the Mentoring Committee specifically because of their connection to her at the 14th Annual Mentoring Conference organized by the UNM Mentoring Institute in October 2021. For NORDP, Dr. Estrada wove together stories of humanity with rigorous research on the effects of mentorship in STEM environments. She led us through thought exercises to feel the residuals of a moment of kindness. She spoke about the multi-faceted care required to live as a whole person. And for those of us who are moved by evidence, her research data speaks volumes for the life-changing benefits of access to mentoring programs. Our NORDP mentors and mentees believe in this work. With each dyad conversation that happens throughout the year and with each Peer Mentoring Group (PMG) meeting, we feel the effects of this work. Those of us who know the benefits need no further convincing, but it is amazing to see it at work in other institutions, with different people, and in other stories. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog about Dr. Mica Estrada here

As members of NORDP, and with access to our phenomenal NORDP Mentoring Program, we are swimming in a wealth of knowledge, evidence-based structure and resources, and — most importantly of all — people who care deeply about the success of each and every one of us.

All In On Mentoring

A mentoring reflection from Marie Teemant, Associate, Research Development Services, Research, Innovation & Impact (RII), University of Arizona.

Marie Teemant

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.

NORDP Mentoring Reflection: Erica Severan-Webb and Erin Meyer

As the 2021-22 Mentoring year draws to a close, the mentoring committee caught up with another dyad pair. Erica Severan-Webb, who serves as the Director of Diversity Programs and Initiatives within the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans mentored Erin Meyer, who serves the University of Utah College of Nursing as a Research Associate. 

Bios:

Erica Severan-Webb is an experienced leader in both the education and non-profit sectors who has conceptualized, designed, and implemented inclusive programming and initiatives to achieve institutional transformation.  She co-authored and served as Co-PI on XULA STRIDES, a NSF ADVANCE grant designed to increase retention of African American STEM faculty at an HBCU.  Her passion for organizational diversity, equity, and accessibility is demonstrated through her work with colleagues, students, and community partners and her continuous engagement and empowerment of individuals and organizations in transformative change models.   

Erin Meyer

Erin Meyer earned a PhD in pharmacology from Georgetown University. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She completed a six year postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience and genetics at the University of Utah and she was a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Utah. She is currently a Research Administrator at the University of Utah, College of Nursing. Erin is also a yoga therapist and she is interested in DEIA and disability studies. 

What influenced you to apply to be a mentor and a mentee for the 2020-21 NORDP Mentoring Program?

Erica: I have had incredible mentors who have encouraged my development and challenged my thinking and leadership practice.  My mentoring relationships have contributed to my career progression and have made me a better RD professional and leader.  I was excited to serve as a mentor to be able to provide that opportunity for a colleague.  

Erin: I have had many great mentors in the past. When I started this program, it had been a long time since I worked with a mentor. I was at a place in my career where I wanted a mentor and I was at a loss about where to find one. I felt stuck without options to advance my career or to change career paths, and I wanted some advice. I am glad NORDP has a program.

What was your favorite part about your relationship? 

Erica: I am always so passionate about learning about individuals and organizations through mentoring relationships.  Erin was such an amazing colleague to discuss how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles and RD intersect, as well as how institutions and professionals can leverage both their expertise and skillsets as RD professionals to advocate for a more inclusive culture within their institution as well as more broadly throughout academia.   

Erin: I specifically requested a mentor from a diverse community. I am from a diverse community, and I have never had a mentor who understood DEI challenges in RD, and in the broader context, DEI challenges in academia. I learned so much from my mentor in these areas. I am now empowered to make a difference in DEI, no matter where I am working.

How has participation in the Mentoring Program helped broaden your horizons about Research Development in general and/or affected your daily work in particular? 

Erica: Erin and I had great conversations and discussions about how DEI and RD intersect.  I always look forward to our chats and treat our discussions as a priority where I disconnect and am fully engaged to provide substantive feedback and strategies that have been beneficial to me in my own development.

Erin: I always look forward to my calls with Erica. I learned from Erica the differences in RD career trajectories and career limitations among large public academic institutions, smaller private academic institutions, and companies in the private sector. In addition, Erica took the time to reach out to someone who knows people at my current institution and through this contact, I have expanded my network. I now have some plans of how to move my career forward. I do not want my relationship with Erica to end.

What surprised you about being a mentor or a mentee?  

Erica: While not surprised, I am always humbled by the incredible talent and expertise that exists within the NORDP community.  So many colleagues sustain institutional initiatives and programming that are innovative while also maintaining service commitments within their institutions and other national organizations.  Erin is no exception as she has been a DEI champion on her campus – this is truly inspiring to my own work and practice.  

Erin: I was not surprised that I learned a lot about RD and DEI. I knew that I was lacking in my knowledge in how these areas intersect. I was surprised to learn that feeling stuck in my career has a lot to do with where I work—the type of institution. I learned from Erica how to navigate this institution.

Any words of wisdom or encouragement for those wanting to apply next year? Any other thoughts you would like to share?  

Erica: Participation in the program always serves to motivate me to continue to look for opportunities to cultivate meaningful mentoring relationships where I can serve as a resource to mentees and foster support as they navigate through specific projects or career transitions points. 

Erin: I went for a long time without a mentor. I will never do that again. I realize how important it is to have a mentor, so I plan to always have at least one. I am also willing to be a mentor.

Erica: Please sign up to be a mentor for the NORDP mentoring program! It is phenomenal in its ability to foster mentoring relationships that facilitate incredible learning opportunities for both mentees and mentors.     

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.

Compiled by Samarpita Sengupta, Mentoring Committee

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.