Jim Oris addresses an audience.

Associate Provost for Research offers perspective on leadership: Part II

An iPad screen with various words displayed. The word "leadership" stands out. Other words are "guides or," "action of," and "capacity."

This is the second in a three-part series on leadership by Miami University’s Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship, Jim Oris. In today’s post, Oris describes how being a faculty mentor prepared him for administrative leadership. (Read Part I here.)

Managing, mentoring, and training students led to the appreciation of different personality types and how each person’s engrained personality preferences need to be mentored in different ways, and my approach with them as individuals was tailored to their specific needs. Whether a student needed more or less direction, was more contemplative and introverted or more impulsive and extroverted, or was more self-insecure versus over-confident needed to be determined before I could be a good mentor. This kind of mentoring does not occur by assigning a postdoctoral fellow or senior graduate student to train new graduate students. It took a significant amount of one-on-one time with each student to be a good major professor. Understanding the strengths of different personality preferences can also be directed toward establishing diverse, cross-functional teams. Each student on a team for our group projects was given a role that they could excel in, but each was expected to learn roles of others on the team that took them out of their comfort zone. In my 28 years as a faculty member, this approach was successful with 14 PhD’s, 13 MS’s, and seven postdoctoral fellows, with nearly $5M in extramural funding, and resulted in over 100 peer-reviewed publications. To this day, all of these individuals remain good friends and colleagues.

In addition to teaching and research, I was very active in university-wide service as a professor, serving among other roles as director of my department’s graduate program for ten years, as chair of the animal care and use committee for eight years, and as a member and then chair of University Senate. I also was extremely active in my professional society, involved at all levels including six years on the Board of Directors and three years in the executive board, which included serving as president.

It was in my service to the professional society, however, that I learned the most about motivating peers and professional staff. I was elected president at a particularly challenging time with regard to finances and management. Instead of focusing on the academic side of the society, I was given the Opportunity to pull a $25M/year society out of a serious financial hole and to transition a 3,000+-member society and its staff of ten from a long-term and deeply entrenched executive director to a new executive director. Needless to say, there was no training in my background as an aquatic toxicologist that prepared me for that, but it was one of the most formative experiences I will ever have.

In 2008, I moved from full-time faculty member to full-time administrator as the associate dean for research. In 2012, I was promoted to be the university’s chief research officer and dean of the graduate school. I lead a professional staff of over 20, nearly half of whom are in the research office. Until 2016, I also maintained my laboratory research program and continued to mentor students. I have one current PhD student conducting field research, who is scheduled to graduate in 2018, and I still work with students and serve as a research consultant on several projects led by colleagues and former students.

After nearly eight years as a research administrator, I look back and see a tremendous amount of overlap between my role as a faculty mentor and my role as an administrator. My approach to mentoring and managing my staff is little different from my approach to mentoring students and managing my research program. I am not “The Boss.” I treat students, faculty, staff, and administrators at all levels with respect and dignity. I am part of the team and we are colleagues. However, I set clear goals and high expectations, and everyone is evaluated on a regular basis to ensure they are performing at a high level.

In Part III, Jim Oris outlines the four elements of his approach to leadership.

Written by Jim Oris, Associate Provost for Research, Miami University.

Photo of Jim Oris by Angelo Gelfuso, Miami University Photo Services. Leadership image by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery, used under Creative Commons license.


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