Raising Nerd’s Women In Science
Mechanical Engineer I
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
“I feel indebted to each and every woman who came before me in this field, and hope that my presence in it can help ease the way for the young women who come after me. It’s a group effort!”
What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing your specific field?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to actively feed your curiosity. If there is anything at all that interests you about science, engineering, or the applications of it (space, chemistry, cars, bridges, and computers to name a few), learn as much as you can about it. Young girls are being exposed to opportunities in STEM earlier than ever before; this is incredible, in part because a young girl who discovers an interest in math, science, or engineering, has almost an entire decade to allow that interest to grow and develop before she enters college and then the workforce.
I wish that I’d known to take time to flesh out my own interests before I started a college engineering program. I came to STEM rather late, deciding in my junior year of high school that I wanted to study “engineering,” and mostly only because I was good at and enjoyed math and physics. I wish I’d taken the time to explore the different types of engineering (at the time that I was applying to college, I didn’t even know there was more than one kind of engineer); I wish I’d spent time reading about astronomy and the stars and space exploration. Had I allowed my interest in physics and space (which I’d recognized much earlier) to develop organically, I would have entered college with more direction and would have been more ready to take advantage of the opportunities there.
So back to my advice: read books, watch TV shows, scroll through twitter; have discussions with friends, with your parents, or with friends of your parents; however you do it, ask questions and seek out specifics of the aspects of STEM that interest you. This way, when you get to high school, you’ll have a good grasp on what interests you (and almost as importantly, what doesn’t). This advice applies to girls of all ages! Curiosity is a huge part of STEM—every invention and discovery can be credited to someone who was curious enough to explore beyond what everyone else assumed to be fact. So keep stoking the fire of whatever interests and excites you!
“The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to actively feed your curiosity.”
Talk about the challenges you faced as a STEM trailblazer in your field … or … Tell us about a time where you failed and how you overcame it or recovered from it?
I certainly don’t consider myself a trailblazer! I feel indebted to each and every woman who came before me in this field, and hope that my presence in it can help ease the way for the young women who come after me. It’s a group effort! In my experience, however, the most challenging part of being a young woman in my field is dealing with the reality of not being taken seriously. The challenge is in overcoming the subtler manifestations of sexism—being spoken over in a meeting, having questions about work I’ve presented directed to my male coworker, being included in a group email that is addressed to “Gentlemen.”
To be clear, I am not naïve—I realize that I am still extremely new to the field and to my job, and do not except to be treated like my peers (male or female) with more experience; I do, however, expect to be treated like I belong in my position, and to be trusted as capable of doing the job that I was hired to do.
In my experience, I’ve found the best and really, only way to overcome these challenges is to let the quality of my work speak for itself. Though it’s unfortunate to feel like I have to hold myself to a higher standard than many of my male peers, I’ve found that I must do so to make myself un-ignorable. This includes things like quadruple-checking spreadsheets or slides that I create, proofreading emails 12 times before I send them out, or rehearsing presentations to prepare for challenging questions. While these are standards that everyone should be held to at work, it often feels like many of my peers get a pass; I’ve found that holding myself to them is the only way I can ensure my voice gets heard and the quality of my work recognized.
Where do you anticipate the next big STEM opportunity for girls in your field and what can they do to position themselves for success?
It’s an exciting time to be a young girl or woman interested in STEM, as the world is finally starting to recognize the importance of introducing girls to it as early as possible! There are so many opportunities now for young women to get involved in tech, from FIRST Robotics Competitions, to Girls Who Code clubs, to the wealth of information online on sites like Twitter and Tumblr. The best way a girl can position herself for success is to be an active learner, to seek out and find communities of allies, and to identify a mentor or someone to look up to. I truly believe that the next big opportunity for girls in STEM will simply be the opportunity to join the field as a valued member. If young girls continue to nourish their curiosity, seeking out knowledge and allowing their interests to develop organically, they will be unstoppable.
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Celebrating Women in Science
February 11th is International Women & Girls in Science Day, so please join us in honoring these amazing women by sharing their stories and reminding every girl interested in STEM that with the desire, access, and a little persistence, they can do anything!
To read more about our tribute to the Women of Science, click here.