Stephanie and Helen: A storybook tale

Talk about a ‘twinning’ program!

A storybook tale 

Once upon a time Stephanie and Helen were paired up in a mentoring program. They started with high ideals and, in hindsight, perhaps a misguided sense of purpose. Stephanie determined the goal of the partnership was to distil and communicate her master’s research project. Develop an ‘elevator pitch’ and develop communications skills to better tell the story. 

But one day the real world intervened and threw all sorts of spanners in the works. Work pressures, sickness, a couple of sojourns to Europe, some interesting personal developments, personal loss, and a wedding. Combined with a growing friendship and sense of trust, their straight-line trajectory went spinning off into the ether.

Because of that they lost focus on the core piece and started digressing (somewhat delightfully) and they started looking at a broader picture and examining personal and career ambitions.  

Because of that they would intermittently circle back to the core piece and discuss strategies to communicate Stephanie’s work. Helen learnt a lot about ephemeral headwater streams, organic matter decomposition and hyporheic zones.

Because of that Helen also discovered Stephanie already has most of the communications skills and strategies she needs, but was struggling to apply the right focus to the right thing…

Because of that we again questioned the context of the work, its relevance and meaning in Stephanie’s life and current work environment. And, using tools and insights gained during the ARCC mentoring program – Above the Line/ Below the Line thinking in leadership, vulnerability, bigger questions were asked…

Until finally Stephanie figured out that perhaps she was not in the best environment for her. Could it be time for a change?

Ever since then they developed a genuine friendship and a trusting relationship that went beyond the narrow scope of a project and they both grew in ways they would not have imagined over the course of the program.

The 2023 group cohort

What is the key thing for me (Steph) through this program?

I entered this program with a particular idea about what I wanted to achieve, but like most things in life, things don’t always go the way you expect. It’s been a non-linear journey, and never about the destination. In this case, it’s the richness of the relationships I made along the way.

I’ve been through a massive year of growth and stress. The greatest thing this about this program, is introducing me to Helen. Helen created a safe and fun space for me to talk about work and life, supporting me while going through an incredibly challenging year. At times we talked about my headwater streams research (the original project idea we intended to focus on). But mostly, we talked about navigating through unexpected challenges that show up in work and life and sharing experiences that connected us.

The program has also introduced me to a whole network of ‘river nerds’. I’ve since started encountering these river nerds in the wild through work. Knowing them a little more personally, spending time in person so that we can ‘neuro-synchronise’, and witnessing everyone’s ARRC mentoring program journey has made working with these people feel seamless.

What is the key thing for me (Steph) through this program?

I entered this program with a particular idea about what I wanted to achieve, but like most things in life, things don’t always go the way you expect. It’s been a non-linear journey, and never about the destination. In this case, it’s the richness of the relationships I made along the way.

I’ve been through a massive year of growth and stress. The greatest thing this about this program, is introducing me to Helen. Helen created a safe and fun space for me to talk about work and life, supporting me while going through an incredibly challenging year. At times we talked about my headwater streams research (the original project idea we intended to focus on). But mostly, we talked about navigating through unexpected challenges that show up in work and life and sharing experiences that connected us.

The program has also introduced me to a whole network of ‘river nerds’. I’ve since started encountering these river nerds in the wild through work. Knowing them a little more personally, spending time in person so that we can ‘neuro-synchronise’, and witnessing everyone’s ARRC mentoring program journey has made working with these people feel seamless.

Where it started (headwater streams)
VS where it ended (two friends):

What is the key thing for me (Helen) through this program?

From my perspective, the program has been as rich for me as I think it has been for Stephanie. What I gained has been different, but much better than what I expected.

Initially, I signed up for the mentoring program to stretch myself professionally and learn new skills (tick, tick). I thought I would be imparting some sort of wisdom and technical skills and help someone achieve a defined or project-based goal.

The reality is, through the course of the mentoring partnership and program, I learned that the real reason I signed up was to restore some of the confidence, built up over a career, that I’d lost during the enforced isolation of the COVID years.

When I came into the program, I was a little unsure about how to ‘add value’ in what I perceived as an uneven relationship. It made me slightly uncomfortable. I took the approach of trying to emulate good managers who’d been my mentors during my career and be a listener. As a task-oriented, solution-focussed person, I had to consciously take a back seat and allow Stephanie to discover her own path.

In terms of imparting wisdom and technical skills – huh! – Stephanie is an old soul and smart as a whip. I think she taught me more than I taught her! What I was able to provide was a sounding board, a safe space and someone to test her thinking during her extremely challenging and life-changing year.

We also learnt that we are very similar in so many ways. I think this was exemplified when we caught up in Healesville in June.

Stephanie has a stellar communications toolkit, and I know as she develops her career, she’ll be flexing those comms muscles and will hone her skills to be a fine science communicator. In the short-term, I look forward to sharing her journey as she finds the right ‘fit’ for her incredible mind and skills, that combines her passions and education and will allow her to flourish.

I can’t wait to watch that happen, as her friend, over the coming years. Thank you, Stephanie.

Talk about a ‘twinning’ program!

What next?

As the program concluded, Steph and Helen started collaborating professionally, exploring some intriguing ideas related to water literacy, education, and engagement within the Victorian water sector.

Steph also started kicking some of the goals she set herself last year! Towards the end of last year, she joined a co-design workshop with industry colleagues to understand the current state of knowledge and challenges facing headwater streams, contributing to the workshop using her research background and current role at DEECA. And in February 2024, she delivered a webinar to the River Basin Management Society about her research. Steph was able to apply so many lessons from the mentoring program to the presentation – both in terms of mental and technical preparation, but also in taking from the incredible variety of presentations we saw at our ARRC graduation.

While the future may hold uncertainties, Steph and Helen are confident that their partnership has only just begun.