When Professor Patricia Wittkopp’s laboratory staff heard that there was a Work/Life Champion Award for Supervisors, there was an outpouring of support for her nomination. She was one of the winners announced recently by the U-M Work/Life Resource Center. 

Wittkopp received her award at a surprise meeting with her lab and EEB administrative staff, complete with cake, balloons, and speeches, hosted by the Work/Life Resource Center. What follows is a compilation of input from the entire lab.

Wittkopp encourages work/life balance in many ways. She is extremely accommodating to alternative work schedules when life deems them necessary. In the past several years, many members of the laboratory have had such experiences, ranging from planning a wedding in China, to juggling parental duties with a spouse who works odd hours to raising a newborn child. Because Wittkopp has had similar experiences, she is more than understanding. Wittkopp frequently organizes and hosts activities to get staff together outside of work, including canoe trips, Whirlyball, baby showers, wedding parties, celebrations of successful thesis defenses, going away parties and potlucks.

An important aspect of mentoring students at all levels in a laboratory is communication and availability. Oftentimes, principal investigators find themselves increasingly busy as their careers progress. Wittkopp, on the other hand, has made a commitment to be available to all lab members when they need her. Because she has so much passion for science and teaching science, she is always there to discuss anything, be it relatively quick updates on research projects, a problem with an experiment, something cool someone read in a research article or writing sessions that can last hours. She thrives on life’s teachable moments, excited to share what she has learned in her own life and career.

Wittkopp shows her respect for students by encouraging everyone to participate in discussion at weekly meetings. She makes sure that everyone understands the discussions and includes and encourages even the newest and least experienced lab members to contribute so that they know their thoughts are unique and valuable.

Collaboration within any research laboratory is quintessential to that laboratory’s success, and Wittkopp’s skillful mentoring fosters such relationships. In addition to improving the nature of research, Wittkopp sees collaborations as opportunities for those involved to gain expertise in specific areas of science. Another team effort is that during weekly meetings they fill pipette tip boxes together, turning a normally tedious individual task into one that’s much more manageable.

Wittkopp's many great leadership qualities contribute to the laboratory’s positive working environment. When delivering feedback, she always does so in an unfailingly courteous manner. Her ability to inspire others through her passion for science has been the determining factor for many to join the laboratory. She has extended her positive attitude to the greater community through giving laboratory tours to local high school students, promoting participation in elementary school science fairs, and participating in programs that promote the inclusion of underrepresented groups in science. In turn, her lab staff  is inspired to follow her lead and give back to the community.

Nominators include: Joseph Coolon, EEB assistant research scientist; Alisha John, MCDB graduate student; Elizabeth Walker, EEB research technician and lab manager; Bing Yang, MCDB graduate student; Laura Sligar, a former undergraduate student; Rich Lusk, EEB postdoctoral fellow; Fabien Duveau, EEB postdoctoral fellow; Brian Metzger, EEB graduate student; Kraig Stevenson, bioinformatics graduate student; Dave Yuan, MCDB graduate student.

The “Work/Life Champion Award for Supervisors” recognizes U-M faculty and staff supervisors who promote work/life balance through consistent recognition of and responsiveness to their employees' professional and personal lives, incorporating important job demands along with customer and team needs. The award is open to both faculty and staff supervisors who are nominated by staff whose work they supervise.