June 18th, 2013
Research Leadership Development Program team
Dr Helen Farley writes:
I arrived in good time, ready to take the bus to Woodlands of Marburg for the first program day of the Research Leadership Development Program. I felt a bit like a cast member from The Right Stuff, one of a select few chosen to push the boundaries, but I soon found this was no Mercury Mission!
At some very early hour, huddled outside the Japanese Garden, we crowded onto the bus because it was warmer than standing outside! Even by that stage I could tell we were in for an interesting day. I tuned in and out of the conversations that were happening all up and down the aisle. From discussions around touch football competitions, upcoming funding rounds and speculations as to what the day held; there was much excited chatter, guffaws and earnest whispering.
It was with anticipation that we travelled down the range, through the big scar on the landscape, and through the endless road works. I wondered how I was going to survive the day without checking emails and messages on my devices – all strictly forbidden. Even so, I was quite excited at having some breathing space from competing work deadlines.
I could not have anticipated how beautiful the Woodlands of Marburg was: a beautiful two-story house with an interesting history and connection to the landscape I studied furiously from a plaque and soon forgot. The motley crew of seventeen plus helpers and mentors ambled over to a glass room with ample verandas where thankfully, coffee was served.
We organised ourselves onto tables, furtively glanced at our iPads one last time, and chewed thoughtfully on a Mentos. Blah, blah – an introduction before we launched ourselves into introductions about who we are outside of USQ and what had brought us to this point. Some of us found it harder to surrender our ties to USQ than others. Chris Lee, facilitator for the day and for the program, was on the alert to references to our esteemed institution.
I knew, at least to some extent, everyone in the room, but was totally blown away by the circuitous paths people had followed to arrive here. Hidden depths were unearthed, secret passions shared (who could have known the depth to which Peter McIlveen loved dachshunds?) A few showed they had a talent for comedy (and Robert Mason, I’m thinking of you here!) And though we know Jon Whitty as an expert on project management without equal, we would never have guessed that he arrived at this spot via a stint in a bakery making tasty pastries before embarking on a successful radio career!
Stories and reflections
Though we laughed a lot through this session, it did make me think about how few people in the cohort had followed a well-honed plan with this destination in mind. And rather than diminish the value of the arrival, it augmented it. Everyone brought with them knowledge, understanding, insight and an intuitive grasp of what it meant to do research in our respective fields, but also how to enable others to do so too. With these stories still resonating, Chris led us through a reflective and collaborative exercise, teasing out the differences between management and leadership. Each is important and neither is exclusive of the other. It was easy to think lofty and visionary thoughts looking out over the rolling green hills, the rain forming a misty backdrop.
We were privileged to have Fulbright Senior Specialist Bob Jensen talk to us in the afternoon. When Bob is not on tour, he is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He chatted to us about handling media expectations and working together to ensure consistency of message. He has had quite some practice handling the media fallout from Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (sold as the biggest clean up in history, not the biggest oil spill!) There was a lot to take away from this session: how to communicate our research simply, how to present a unified message and how to make social media work for you, not against you. He was very generous with his time and expertise, chatting to us through the (well-catered) break to make sure the material was relevant to us. I was relieved he didn’t recognise my name on some secret dossier from my early, militant days of Women’s Action Against Global Violence (or maybe he did and that’s why he was there!)
A good day
And so the first program day drew to a close with a few locally produced wines. DVC (R&I) Mark Harvey dropped in to provide some support and encouragement, as did ADFI Executive Director Mike Keppell, looking remarkably fresh after just getting off a flight from Hong Kong! I did survive the day without my devices though I must admit to checking emails sneakily once or twice through the day.
Guess what? The world did manage without me for those hours. I’ve thought a lot since that day about my own research and my own path and I must say I’m very excited by the possibilities! I’m really looking forward to the rest of the program and feel lucky to have the opportunity to get to know the rest of the cohort better. What a great crowd! And I’m feeling marginally more comfortable with the road less travelled, maybe the right stuff after all.