What Does the Riggs Centennial Mean to Me? - Part 2
Austen Riggs held a blog competition among staff members where we asked them to answer the question: “What does the Riggs Centennial Mean to Me?” Our second blog entry comes from IRB Administrator Kim Hunter-Schaedle, PhD.
… Which I Guess Makes Me a Middle Piece
by Kim Hunter-Schaedle
In ‘Riggs years’, my nearly five years of service still makes me a recent arrival. I was told at hiring that it would take a year to ‘get’ Riggs – but believe me, I still have a lot to learn. Some of my fellow staff have been here for ten, twenty years, even forty years. For me, it begged the question: how can one truly contribute to such a seasoned staff and institute? This question came to mind again a couple years ago, when everyone in the Riggs community was given a piece of a beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzle, created by our late woodworking colleague Edouard from the Lavender Door. We each had to bring our pieces together, and assemble the puzzle as a community – the concept being that we all contribute to the whole.
The centennial has created another opportunity to reflect on my own place in the Riggs puzzle. I joined Riggs at a strange time in my life. In the space of less than three years prior, I had left the career fast lane in New York City, relocated my home from urban New Jersey to a mountaintop in the northern Berkshires, gone through two family bereavements, and some life-changing medical stuff. Looking back, I was probably rather a wreck. But I was excited to find a job in the Berkshires where I could use my skills, and to work for Dr. Tillman as Manager of Institutional Research. I was full of ideas. I knew I was a good - even innovative - research administrator.
But the things I most wanted to bring to Riggs were not successful, and the things I succeeded with and enjoyed were not what I expected or predicted – in fact, they absolutely surprised me. I was assigned to curate the Follow Along Study, a huge research data archive that is itself a chunk of Riggs living history that is still used for research studies – one current study is a collaboration with three research institutions in Mexico. It was quite an introduction to Riggs - a 16-year study with over 100 staff members involved. 100 puzzle pieces. Through organizing old letters and memos (these being from days before email) from the Study, I got to know these staff, many of whom who had come and gone before me, all of whom had left their mark behind in this archive. Then there was the ‘gang of nine’ undergraduate research interns whom I managed in the summer of 2015. I still look back on that and wonder how I did it. I remember the night before their arrival, lying in bed awake and terrified at what I had taken on – being neither a natural teacher nor a nurturing person. In the end, it was a great success - organization and lots of snacks helped – they had a great experience, and people still bring it up with me as a good thing, so perhaps it has made the grade and fallen into Riggs lore. And those interns too, some of whom became Riggs employees, were puzzle pieces for a while and left a trace behind.
Riggs can at times seem set in stone but I have seen adaption and change, big and small. Some changes sneak up on us. Some changes take, and become permanent; others don’t. And yes, it is true, new staff do arrive, and some staff do leave.
Which brings us back to those puzzle pieces. Over 100 years of Riggs, how does each piece contributed to the whole? I might have gained a handle on this through a new passion I have developed for White Mountain Puzzles 1,000 piece jigsaws. Not all jigsaw pieces are the same. There are corners; there are edges; these are fixed pieces with specific places. Then the question is, where do the middle pieces go? Sometimes it takes time to figure this out. It can look like a middle piece will go in one place, but then it turns out that it actually fits somewhere else.
If Riggs is a jigsaw, it is one that will never be quite completed. Perhaps because not all the pieces were included in the original box, and White Mountain keeps sending replacement pieces from other puzzles by mistake. These are pieces that are destined for different puzzles. And if I recall correctly, not all pieces of Edouard's wooden puzzle came back together. Maybe some people just don’t see themselves fitting into the puzzle.
Like many Riggs employees, I have held a few different roles – perhaps I am a classic middle puzzle piece, unsure of where I really fit. At the same time, perhaps I am more adaptable than I realize, now being in my third role here as IRB Administrator, learning new stuff and bringing it to my work. Maybe it is not my last role here – who knows. Regardless, like all those puzzle pieces that have come and gone before me, I will inevitably contribute something – big or small, good or bad - to the long and continuing history of Riggs. And that feels like a good fit.