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SRAI Odyssey: London – Seattle – Ann Arbor

By SRAI News posted 11-10-2021 03:16 PM


SRAI Odyssey: London – Seattle – Ann Arbor

Corinna, a Research Administrator at the University of Michigan, Katie, Business Process Analyst at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle and Silke, Director at 4Sciences Group Ltd in the UK talk about their first group mentoring experience with the SRAI’s Odyssey program

What was your motivation for participating in the SRAI Odyssey program?

Prior to entering SRAI’s Odyssey mentorship program, I had never had a formalized mentorship relationship before and did not know what to expect. After nearly a full year working from home, I was eager to find additional avenues to not only socialize but to also connect with the broader Research Administration community SRAI represents, so I decided to sign up for the Odyssey mentoring program. 

In late 2020, when it was registration time for the 2021 SRAI Odyssey program, I was intrigued to see a group mentoring option in addition to the more well-known one-on-one mentor/mentee pairing. Mentoring, especially in a formally organized environment, had always been one-on-one for me, and I was curious how having a co-mentee could turn out. So I checked both boxes and left it to chance how many mentees my mentor would have. 

I have hugely benefited from mentoring and discussions with colleagues since I moved into research management about 20 years ago and, with increasing experience, also mentored many colleagues over time. What strikes me most about mentoring is that, really, it is a dialog and two-way process. While the mentee might gain more initially with regards to guidance and answers to pressing questions, ultimately to me mentoring seems an integral aspect of building networks and sharing experiences – and that certainly works both ways. The more so I was looking forward to joining the SRAI’s Odyssey program as a mentor.

What were your first impressions of Odyssey?

The matching letters were sent out after winter break, and my eyes were immediately drawn to three bolded names in the mentor/mentee pairing section - I had a group! Some excited googling yielded that our group would meet across three time zones and two continents: Our meetings were arranged so that Katie had just turned on her computer near Mount Rainier, I was on my lunch break in southeast Michigan, and Silke finished the work day with us in London. 

I was so pleased to learn that the other members of my group were both from Germany. Having lived in Germany for a year myself, I was thrilled with the idea of hearing from their perspectives because I had a background in German and German culture. With travel bans limiting international travel, one of the simplest and surprisingly fun things about our group has been talking with people from places we couldn’t go. I have enjoyed comparing the weather in Michigan to that of Washington state and noticing the lengthening days in the UK through the sunsets on Silke’s screen, while at the same time sitting at home in Washington state, eating my cereal and getting ready for the day.

Beyond fulfilling Katie’s suppressed wanderlust, being part of this group has been an incredible experience learning not only from the mentor but also from the peer mentees. We fell into an easy rhythm during our bimonthly meetings, with each mentee taking turns with sharing ongoing developments in the workplace, bringing discussion starters to the group, and preparing topics for meetings. We all do work in research administration at three very different workplaces and it has been of great value to hear perspectives from within a large university, from a non-profit research institute, and from an entrepreneur with a deep portfolio of international clients.

What value for your career has Odyssey brought with it?

Having spent the entirety of my career in research administration at a non-profit research institute, I have appreciated learning more about the breadth of what is possible with research administration and all the places I could potentially take my career. In addition, I work in operations of my institute’s research administration – while my work helps support the work of pre-award and post-award, I don’t submit or manage applications and awards myself. Gaining more exposure to not only the front-line pre-award and post-award work that I support, but also to the management of those that do that work from different institutions than mine, has broadened my perspective of our shared field and given me an appreciation for how transferable many of the skills I develop in my job are. 

As 2021 has still been dominated by Covid, I found that a recurring theme in our meetings was how our different institutions and countries dealt with challenges of the Covid-necessitated remote workplace, and the transition phase progress to a hybrid setting for some of us once summer was over. It was enlightening to hear how our different workplaces were faced with similar issues and how approaches to solve them compared. It will be interesting to stay in touch with each other over the coming years to see where the field of research administration will go in terms of remote, hybrid, or in-person work, and whether different types of institutions adapt similarly over time.

With our work environment in a state of transition, we highly recommend group mentoring. Listening and learning from others in this often confusing time has been a valuable point of help in adjusting to the “new normal”. To hear that others out there, no matter how far, are facing similar upheavals as we do is a great comfort as we adjust more fully to a changed workspace.

A group setting like ours also highlights the power of teamwork. When discussing a topic, we often found that the co-mentee’s point of view added another dimension to our understanding and gave us more layered insights. One example is this article: When planning on how to present our group mentoring experience, Katie was able to share past SRAI meeting agendas and topic area outlines through her involvement with the SRAI conference; Corinna dug into the Catalyst archives to search for articles about mentoring; and Silke provided the connection to SRAI to ensure we planned ahead for the right publication. 

Especially with a view on less in-person interaction in the workplace for many research administrators, programs like Odyssey will add value to our professional lives in an even more important way in the future: with less opportunities to meet coworkers and network via casual interactions, formal settings like mentoring programs get people together and build relationships, whether it is within our organizations, in our countries, or around the globe.

Would you recommend the Odyssey group mentoring version to prospective mentees and mentors?

I am very glad that I checked that group mentoring box - it has brought me a rich experience with getting to know two awesome fellow research administrators, double the mentoring, and new viewpoints on our profession from different kinds of institutions. Also, as co-mentees Katie and I were able to dip our toes into the mentoring waters by providing input and encouragement to the other mentee. 

It has been quite fun to hear from others outside our institutions who have similar work issues, like tips on improving leading a meeting in an online environment, how to work with different personality types, and how to keep calm and carry on when there is a tight deadline for implementing new federal regulations. 

I was excited to find that I had been allocated two mentees which constituted my first experience as a group-mentor. My initial concerns about not being able to give each of them enough space and attention proved unfounded. Rather, the sessions developed a dynamic where ideas and thoughts were bounced around, allowing us all to look at challenges and situations from different angles. I can only recommend giving it a try. 

Submit your application for the Odyssey Program to be a mentor or mentee by December 1!

Authored by Corinna Burghardt, Research Administrator
University of Michigan
Odyssey Program Mentee

Authored by Katie Fritcher, Business Process Analyst
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute
Odyssey Program Mentee

Authored by Silke Blohm, Director
4Sciences Group Ltd
Odyssey Program Mentor