Rich Discussions and Personal Connections in Beijing

A striking transformation happens each summer in a small classroom in Beijing.  We begin the first day of a weeklong workshop facing a painfully quiet group of students staring at the floor.  We end a busy week with group hugs, lively conversations, new partnerships, tears, laughter and tremendous pride and enthusiasm.  At the core of this metamorphosis is the annual CMB (China Medical Board) Nursing Faculty Research Grant Workshop, now in its 5th year.

Dr.s Nancy Hodgson, Jennifer Wenzel and Jiayun Xi with PUMC Dean Huaping Liu  and the 2015 Nursing Faculty Research Grant Workshop students

This was my third year teaching the workshop and the most memorable to date.   I was joined by two tremendous colleagues,  Associate Professor Jennifer Wenzel and new PhD Jiayun Xu.  Our classroom at the Peking Union Medical College School of Nursing was stark and traditional with rows of desks facing a large chalkboard.  The fourteen students were PhD-prepared nursing faculty from across China.  Each participant submitted a competitive and vastly ambitious research proposal to attend this workshop and were selected to represent their respective Schools of Nursing.  They leave their work and their respective homes and families to sit in a classroom all day, sleep in a dormitory, and eat cafeteria food.  The commitment to work hard and glean as much as they can to become the best researchers possible is both palpable and humbling.

The main objective of the workshop is to develop skills in grantsmanship, research methods and research dissemination, and students typically report that these sessions are essential and very helpful.  However, it’s the rich discussions and the personal connections that emerge between sessions that become the most rewarding aspects of the workshop, for the participants and for us.

This year we encouraged students to share the most pressing challenges they face in their research faculty roles. The open and honest dialogue about these common challenges we all face as nursing faculty went a long way to breaking the ice and crumbling cultural barriers. Based on the needs identified in these conversations we added sessions on professional development and leadership skills such as networking, public speaking, and team building.  On the last day of the workshop students delivered a 2-minute “elevator talk” that summarized their area of interest, their long and short term career objectives, and the potential impact of their work.   It’s remarkable to see how students who, on Monday spoke timidly and humbly about their proposals, by Friday became confident, enthusiastic and compelling spokespersons for nursing research faculty, articulating the pressing need for the work and their contributions to science.

Saying goodbye is always difficult, but our departure was accompanied by the happy news that the workshop was funded for another cycle.  We will miss our faculty colleagues in China, but we are pleased to have a small part in nurturing the growth of these talented researchers and of nursing scholarship.  We look forward to our return and to what lies ahead.

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