To end is to begin

The soil is simply a billion things ended, necessary for something new to grow. Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

To all things, there is a season, and the season is turning. The winter is thawing here in Tasmania, and elsewhere. Tiny seeds long planted are starting to shoot — for me, and the ResearchOps Community. I feel it, and I hope you do, too.

This is my last post as the co-chair of the ResearchOps Community, though it will not be my last post just as myself, or in talking about research operations. It’s hard to keep a chatty Brigette quiet, just ask my friends :)

I’ve been quiet of late — my PhD thesis on the gendered division of labour in cishet parents, and the scale of the work in my ‘real’ work has definitely eaten away at my time in lots of good ways!

Snow, settling, somewhere…. not in Tasmania (sorry folks, I missed the first snowfall of winter, I was in NYC!) Photo by Adam Chang on Unsplash

One of my favourite reads of the past few years is Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, by Katherine May. In it, she said,

“Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but it’s crucible.”

It’s been a tricky few years for us all, and for me, it meant a lot of grief and change. It taught me loads and loads about just resting into the stuff that felt hard, and, when I was ready, about planting seeds, and doing the work to be ready to grow.

In the community, it taught us about giving each other grace, and about the stuff that was actually important in being a community. In the end, the profession of research operations is just the thing that brings us together.

What holds us there, is each other — the gift of friendship, the enormous gift of each others’ time and energy, being there for each other.

In the community, we nurtured and held each other through the pandemic, through cycles of job loss, jobs gained, promotions, personal grief, and celebrations — babies born, jobs gained, books published, articles written, and projects and projects and projects done. Did I mention the projects?

It’s been a wild 4 years, 3 of which I’ve been lucky enough to be co-chair. Together, we launched a website, a podcast, publications in English, French, Portuguese, German. We did talks, we co-designed a conference around the 8 Pillars with UXInsight. We did community calls, pair-connect. At the beginning of the pandemic, we did weekly check-ins, and over the past 4 years, connected thousands of people to research operations jobs. We did a project on a Research Skills Framework, and the Research Repos project turned into a program of work where we produced projects on consent, governance, taxonomies, and knowledge management. We did the ResearchOps Toolbox, and this year, as you might be aware, we partnered with Learners, and ran our first ever ReOpsConf2022 under the leadership of co-chair, Holly Cole.

In 2018, the community was started with a single tweet, and a lot of work, by Kate Towsey. The search term ‘ResearchOps’ did not appear in Google trends before that, but it does now.

We’ve grown from a small group of new and old friends to 12,000+ people from 98 countries.

In the beginning, the community was a validation for me that I wasn’t alone, that this work had merit, that it really was different, that it was complex, and needed a lot of skills that were nothing to do with research. I remember my boss at the time telling me she really didn’t think it was relevant to my work, but sure, go ahead and see what happened.

A lot happened. A community happened.

A community is “a group of people possessing a shared identity around a topic or set of challenges of joint interest, linked to a collective intention of working together to build knowledge and solutions around this topic or challenges”

Budd A, Corpas M, Brazas MD, Fuller JC, Goecks J, Mulder NJ, et al. (2015) A Quick Guide for Building a Successful Bioinformatics Community

Communities are circular things — in bigger communities, they are circles within circles, and circles overlapping with other circles. It can be hard to keep track of all the circles! The beauty is, you don’t need to, they just keep growing, forming, waning, re-emerging and so on. Kind of like bubbles in bubble bath, they all connect and together, grant us a blanket of community.

One of my favourite challenges in the community, was connecting to as many of those bubbles as was possible. It’s a beautiful thing to observe — people gathering, and growing together.

In the end, that’s what communities are for — for growing — in ourselves, in our practices, becoming better versions of ourselves than we could have ever been on our own. Just to be clear, without the ResearchOps Community, I’d not be in this profession today. I’d know just a tiny drop of what I do, because of the community. Our motto is to always give more than you take, but my word, the community has given me so much. I hope I did it some justice in what I could give. I know that what we did, what we do, matters because of our collective strength.

“Though there are individual voices and people who got there first, these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world…”

- Rebecca Solnit

In leading this community, I’ve learned about senior leadership — about running what became a company, across a lot of time zones, and through a lot of challenges. We tend to have around 10 or so Directors in the board at any given time, running several teams of volunteers that come and go, and they have been some of the best leaders in the field. Cheesies, what a blessing it has been to learn from each of you. I’m so grateful for your trust, perseverance and friendship.

I hope in stepping down, that I’ve given the best gift I can think of — that a lot of people, if they read this, will not know who I am. That no one will notice I’m not there (I will be away for a while, getting that PhD sorted!), and that everything will simply continue. To me, this side of leadership is knowing just when and how to get out of the way. Knowing when it is time to simply step back and watch a thing take it’s own path.

Holly Cole and the board have big plans, and new paths, and the community will renew, and become different, and the profession will grow and grow. It will be a pleasure to stand on the side lines, as a previous gardener within a community of gardeners, watching how you all shape and grow this profession, and this community, of research operations. I can’t wait to see what you do, and what new and exciting things happen!

“Sen no Rikyū says, “Ichi-go ichi-e.” The master told me it roughly translates to “one meeting, one moment in your life that will never happen again.” “We could meet again, but you have to praise this moment because in one year, we’ll have a new experience, and we will be different people and will be bringing new experiences with us, because we are also changed.” — Priya Parker. The Art of Gathering.

Thanks to the many people who became dear friends over the years. The people who’ve been such a huge part of my life each and every day for the past 4 years, the ones who became family. You changed me, planted enough seeds that I’m ready now, for Spring.

See you all soon, in the slack, online, or maybe sometimes, in person ❤

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Brigette Metzler

Brigette Metzler

researcher, counter of things, PhD student, public servant…into user research, information architecture, ontology, data. Intensely optimistic.