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The Secret Life of a Research Administrator | Vanessa Greer Ettema

By SRAI News posted 01-12-2023 08:34 AM


The Secret Life of a Research Administrator | Vanessa Greer Ettema

“The Secret Life of a Research Administrator” column is meant to facilitate more personal connections between SRAI members through the Catalyst newsletter. If you would like to share with the community or know of someone who will, please submit your article here. 

My secret life was birthed by COVID which altered so many aspects of our lives. It all started with "Vincenzo." You may be wondering what "Vincenzo" is. You'd be wrong if you guessed something Italian. It's a Korean drama (or, as I like to call them, "Korean Soap Operas" or KSO). My husband and I would curl up on the couch, me in one corner and he in the other, wrapped in blankets and pillows, anticipating the next episode after a long day at the office and evening household chores. 

Growing up in an Asian-American culture, I never thought much about the differences and similarities between my Vietnamese culture and other Asian cultures. We were all the stereotypical overachievers: great in math, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. To my family's chagrin (as the first person in my family to attend a four-year university in the United States), I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and began working for a non-profit organization on a meager salary. 

I enjoy watching these KSO for many reasons. They demonstrate how much our cultures share in terms of defining success, women's equality, social economics, and hero vs. heroine. On an interesting note, I find it surprising that in a patriarchal society, the dramas frequently feature women in hero roles as often as men. Ironically, as a stoic culture, the male characters also cry easily and openly. I love how quirky humors are imbedded in these high dramas. The period pieces remind me of coming home from school and seeing my grandfather in his chair watching Vietnamese dramas, and I find myself smiling with happy memories. I have two takeaways from these shows: 1) the culture is very respectful, regardless of differences in opinions, lifestyles, and beliefs; and 2) I learned English by listening to music, and perhaps, I will learn a new language by watching the KSOs. Overall, respect may well be the answer in our turbulent world (now when I see elderly Asian people in the grocery stores, I think I should bow instead of just smiling). We should think about how art imitates life and maybe, just maybe, life should imitate art. 

How does this relate to me as a Research Administrator? Many communication classes remind us to be understanding and empathetic, but perhaps by adding a dose of respect, such as bowing, we can create a space for open communication for the principal investigators and ourselves, as research administrators, in helping to bridge that divide and create a world where cultures are worth sharing, not seen as obstacles. 

“Kamsahamnida” (Hangul: 감사합니다 ) or “Thank you”

Authored by Vanessa Greer Ettema, Manager, Financial Compliance
University of Maryland, College Park


1 comment



01-13-2023 11:59 AM

I love your post/story and how you brilliantly narrated it!