Letters to My Young Self April 6, 2011Posted by A weekend of culture, style, and summer in Letter to Young Self.
Tags: Letter to Young Self, women in science
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To join us in 2012, see the rationale and what we’re looking for here and submit a post preferably by 3/15 to email@example.com.
Thank you so much to all the contributors to our blog project in 2011! We’ve had wonderful responses all around.
|Awo Ashiabor is a native of Ghana and hopes to start a nonprofit to encourage young people there to enter science and engineering fields.||
“I would advise that you continue to pursue the subjects that interest you. Do not be overly concerned about selecting classes that will land you the medical career or the job as a nun or the job as a diplomat. That is a tall order. Simply follow your interests. The dots will connect organically.”
|Marcie Black is the Co-Founder and the Chief Technology Officer at Bandgap Engineering. She is developing technology that will reduce the cost of solar electricity. She is Mass High Tech’s 2010 Woman to Watch awardee.||“Whatever you decide to do, you will do wonderfully if you put your heart into it. So my advice to you is to follow your heart, your passion, and your dreams and don’t let difficulties stand in the way.”|
|Margaret Chu-Moyer works at Amgen and is a Mass High Tech 2011 Woman to Watch. Her early interest in the ingredients in shampoo foreshadowed her path to become an organic chemist. She has led research to discover drugs (therapeutic compounds) for diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and frailty.||
“You are smart – that is a gift. Use it to the full extent. Being called a “brain-o” hurts right now, but isn’t the end of the world and in fact, you will be able to use your brain so many ways in college and beyond, which is just a few years away.”
|Phoebe Cohen is the Education and Outreach Coordinator and Postdoctoral Associate on the MIT NASA Astrobiology Team. As part of the Advent of Complex Life team, she studies fossils and answers archaeology questions about evolution.||
“I promise you this – the things that make you weird at 12 will serve you well for the rest of your life. However, it won’t always be easy.”
|Allison Drew is a cell biologist. The organisms she studies keep getting smaller and smaller, as she started out studying kangaroos, moved on to study bugs and beetles and is currently working with cancer cells.||
“You’ll experience a feeling of satisfaction from finding a place to use your growing skills of observation, a vocabulary to describe the things you observe, and techniques to try to analyze why those events are taking place – that is, you’ll learn to conduct a scientific experiment.”
|Elma Feric has been an electrophysiologist and a molecular neuroscientist in the Neuroscience Department at Amgen since 2008. She received her Bachelor’s in Neuroscience and Psychology from Brandeis University in 2005 and is currently finishing up her Master’s degree at Harvard University.||“You don’t always have to wear a lab coat to be a scientist – a pretty dress, matching eye shadow and heels are allowed, too! Also, you can do some science while dancing in lab and listening to your favorite music – I am convinced that it helps.”|
|Judy Giordan is Chair of VentureWell, an advising and investment group for startup university based science and engineering ventures and former VP Global R&D for PepsiCola and International Flavors and Fragrances and VP R&D for Henkel Corporation. She is the 2010 recipient of the Garvin-Olin Medal of the American Chemical Society.||
“Keep loving science, because it is really the love of your life…and will be your ticket to an amazing life and incredible opportunities – ones beyond your wildest Barbie-doll dreams!”
|Anjelica Gonzalez is a biomedical engineer who uses a mutli-disciplinary approach, combining organic chemistry, molecular biology, mathematics, computational modeling and image analysis to create new biomaterials and structures to study biological processes. She also participates in research around health disparities.||
“Spend this time discovering yourself and the world, and realizing that no one has all the answers. Life is full of success and failure, which keeps things exciting. Science is composed of people who don’t have the answers either, and are still searching for them.”
|Joanne Kamens is the Senior Director of Research Collaborations at RXi Pharmaceuticals. She has focused her efforts on opening doors for women scientists by creating supportive mentoring networks for over a decade. She founded the Boston chapter of AWIS (the Association for Women in Science) and now serves on the national AWIS Chapters Committee. She also serves on the Board of Directors of WEST (Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology).||“Don’t ever stop looking for and finding answers to questions. I know it is hard to be heard when you are a 4 foot tall, red headed girl and I get that you need to be strong about that, but maybe it would be good to learn other ways of persuasion and convincing too.”|
|Yvonne Ng is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and Chair of Center for Women, Science and Technology at St. Catherine’s University.||Play—whether a home project, a trip to the lake, or a bicycle ride—is the way you re-energize your mind. Believe it or not, you will work better when you take time to play more. This is going to be one of your hardest lessons.|
|Tebello Nyokong is the Director of the Nanotechnology Innovation Center at Rhodes University, South Africa and the first South African scientist to win the L’Oréal-UNESCO award for women in science. Her research focus on the development of molecules similar to the ones used to dye blue jeans, which can be used as chemical sensors to detect disease-related molecules and organisms, as an alternative to chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer and for environmental clean-up.||
“You believe education will equip you to have a more fulfilling career. But you have been told endlessly that women do not need a career, they just have to marry well. But you are different. You have an independent mind. You believe you can be a wife and a mother and still be a bread winner and contribute to society. And you will.”
|Cheryl Sanderson is a teacher at the Summer Street Elementary School in Lynnfield, MA. She is focused on fostering excitement and curiosity to the science classroom. Sanderson received the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence in 2010.||
“Be willing to take risks even if it means you might fall flat on your face and fail, never be satisfied with what ifs, you will never grow and never have the chance to inspire others.”
|Rachel Shearer is a software engineer at Google who works on making web applications and tools more accessible to users with disabilities.||
“Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was you: don’t take your defeats too personally. Good grades and test scores become less important with time and experience. And if you’re curious about something, you should pursue it with all your heart.”
|Blogger 29andaPhD is currently exploring staff positions in her former field of study. You can read her blog here.||“Remember the meaning and root of the word university. You are there to become a well-rounded student, to challenge views and form an opinion.”|
|Blogger Biochembelle is a research fellow in basic biomedical sciences, following her scientific love of proteins and chemistry. You can read her blog here.||“You are your own worst enemy and critic. You don’t have very much faith in yourself. In several years, you’re going to hear this term, imposter syndrome, and boy, do you ever have it. Basically it means that you think you don’t deserve to be where you are, that you didn’t earn the praise or position.”|
|Blogger The Dog Zombie is currently in veterinary school. She figures she will be a veterinarian for at least five years before changing careers again. You can read her blog here.||“So what I want to tell you is this: you can do anything you want. You know who you are and what you are good at right now, but that doesn’t mean that you will always be content with those limits.”|
Yvonne Ng’s letter to her 16-year-old self March 31, 2011Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
Tags: Letter to Young Self, women in engineering, women in science
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Mechanical engineer, professor, and Engineer’s Playground blogger, Yvonne Ng offers her younger self some advice on confidence, finding the right friends and bosses, and how to attain balance.
Writing to you from a vantage point well over 25 years from your 16, I have only a few pieces of advice for the woman engineer you will become.
You already are prepared to work hard. With parents like yours (in 2011, they will be called Tiger Parents), you know that hard work counts more than talent. Engineering at Princeton will be one of the greatest challenges you will face, but you will emerge with a set of skills—technical, communication and organizational—under your belt.
You already know that engineering will open up avenues of opportunity to help people.
You are already aware that boys significantly outnumber the girls in your classes. You will have already seen this in mathematics classes and at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences. But you seem to like boys’ directness more than girls’ double-talk, so being surrounded by men in engineering classes will not be difficult. However, keep reaching out to other women who share your passions about technical things. The women you meet in college—your roommates and those you commiserate with in the women’s bathroom—will be your best friends throughout life.
You already know that engineering will open up avenues of opportunity to help people. You will choose mechanical engineering because of your interest in improving prosthetics (yes, that project you and Dad did with the ski boot buckles will have lasting effects on you), but right now, you have no idea of the opportunities mechanical engineering will offer. Remember the Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers videos you loved—how crayons were made, where milk travels, and how saxophones were manufactured? Your interest in prosthetics will lead you to help people in so many different industries—from microwave popcorn to printing to rubber mixers. Don’t believe the professors who think you don’t have what it takes. Not only will you enjoy the work, companies will love having you on their teams. In some ways, you will get more satisfaction from working as an engineer than studying to be one.
So what advice can I give you? Maintain balance—the kind Chinese describe as “opposites complementing each other into a harmonious whole.” Learning tai chi, you will learn to cultivate the yin and the yang. Your teacher will tell you to relax because you tend to be tense. (If you were relaxed, she would tell you to tense up!) One is not better than the other; both need to be developed for balance.
The most immediate things to balance will be:
Liberal arts and engineering: The hardest problems you will tackle as an engineer won’t be technical. Your challenges will be dealing with people, so don’t feel guilty for taking women’s history, Chinese politics, or children’s literature. Each course will give you insight into the human condition—often the real problem behind an engineering project.
Work and play: Play—whether a home project, a trip to the lake, or a bicycle ride—is the way you re-energize your mind. Believe it or not, you will work better when you take time to play more. This is going to be one of your hardest lessons.
Friends and colleagues: Working well with colleagues is important but remember to nurture friendships unrelated to work. Research reports will show that best friends are important to a woman’s health. You certainly will feel poorly when you don’t have them.
Love and passion: Passion for your work will come easily. In fact, when you make order of the chaos, you will switch jobs so you can tackle the next interesting problem. This is great, but remember to take time for those you love. Your family wants to support you but can’t if you don’t stay connected—so go home when you can, and call otherwise. Your boyfriend (who will become your husband)—will support you in so many ways, but only if you nurture the relationship.
So be proactive in finding balance.
This means realizing that you choose who will benefit from your talents. You will go to interviews where employers assume you can’t do the work (believe it or not, it will be because of your leg, not your brain!). You will work with those who assume you will go along with whatever they say (and will be upset when you are NOT the meek Chinese woman they assumed you were). Studies will show that you are not the only woman to experience this.
You must be proactive—it is worth the time to find a boss that appreciates you, who has the utmost belief in your ability, and who will be “the boss” and have your back. Pick someone who deserves it and leave the ones who don’t.
I hope this advice will help you manage the trials that are ahead. Remember, you can tackle them, just make sure you preserve the best parts of yourself in the process.
Yvonne Ng obtained her mechanical and aerospace engineering degree from Princeton, and a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota. She is currently an assistant professor of computer science and engineering and chair of Center for Women, Science and Technology at St. Catherine’s University.
Cheryl Sanderson’s letter to her 3rd-grade-self March 30, 2011Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
Tags: Letter to Young Self, teacher, women in science
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Cheryl Sanderson is a science teacher at the Summer Street Elementary School in Lynnfield, MA. She is focused on fostering excitement and curiosity in the science classroom. Sanderson received the 2010 Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence.
You may think that your science classes in third grade lack excitement and curiosity and can at times be very discouraging with memorizing words and facts that mean very little to you, except that you need to know them to pass a science test and then move on to the next topic and grade. However I can’t wait for you to discover the creativity and passion for science that will become such a significant part of your adult life. You will continue to enjoy your world of music and drama, but get this: in your wildest dreams could you ever imagine yourself as a teacher? Really, a teacher!
Your journey will take you in many directions that will assist you to develop lifelong problem solving and thinking skills, as well as technology and engineering skills. You will take responsibility for your own learning and develop a sincere pride in your work (yes, you will ironically find yourself slowing down and actually sharing and gaining knowledge with those book reports and research papers).
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something simply because you are a girl, a jock, a music nerd, or you’re not smart enough! Had I let people convince me of that I would not have had the opportunities that you are about to experience. Be willing to take risks even if it means you might fall flat on your face and fail, never be satisfied with what ifs, you will never grow and never have the chance to inspire others. It’s okay to be afraid and be willing to go out on a limb, wait until you spend your summers in Africa testing water resources for National Geographic, teaching children in Poland, and teaching students and teachers in China!
Remember these kind words from your mom, “In life you must always remember and treasure friendships, responsibilities, cooperation, compassion, tolerance, honesty, and perseverance. And always remember that loving yourself and others, no matter what the circumstances, is the most important gift of all.”
Follow your dreams,
Phoebe Cohen’s Letter to her 12-year-old self March 29, 2011Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
Tags: early experience, Letter to Young Self, women in science
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Dr. Phoebe Cohen is the Education and Outreach Coordinator & Postdoctoral Associate on the MIT NASA Astrobiology Team. As part of the Advent of Complex Life team, she studies fossils and answer questions such as, How did complex life evolve on Earth? What role did the environment and climate play? What do the answers to these questions mean for our search for life on other planets?
Dear 12 year old Phoebe,
You are weird. Deep down, I think you know that’s awesome. But I know it doesn’t feel that way when you’re trying to walk to your seat on the school bus while being taunted for your crazy curly hair or your tom-boy clothes or your good grades. Eventually, you (and others) will learn to love your curls as a part of your personality. Eventually, you’ll start buying women’s jeans and learn to love them too, but you’ll always keep a pair of men’s jeans somewhere in your dresser too. As for the good grades, they will continue, a marker of your inherent curiosity in the world around you. I promise you this – the things that make you weird at 12 will serve you well for the rest of your life. However, it won’t always be easy.
Keep standing on the edge of the knot until your voice is heard because your voice is just as important as theirs.
One of the things besides school that you will come to excel at is walking away from situations that make you uncomfortable. You’ll say to yourself over and over again – “I don’t want to deal with it.” In some situations, you will be doing yourself a huge favor. In others, you’ll use it as an excuse. Don’t. Yes, it’s hard to stand on the edge of the knot of boys talking about something that you are interested in, trying not to feel terrible about yourself when you are ignored the first 12 times you try to interject with a relevant comment. Do it 13 times. 14 times. Keep standing on the edge of the knot until your voice is heard because your voice is just as important as theirs. Most of the time, those boys (and then men) will have no conscious idea of what they are doing. They don’t hate you or think that you are stupid. They just don’t realize the effect that their behavior has on you. And that’s not entirely their problem – the person who can best advocate for you is you. If you believe your questions and your opinions matter as much as theirs, the fear will subside. So don’t let the school bus heartache make you turn away when you feel hurt and sad. Own it – stand your ground. This is a lesson you will have to keep learning, again and again.
Even though you are you own best advocate, you can’t do it alone. So the other important piece of advice
Allison Drew’s letter to her 12-year-old self March 28, 2011Posted by Science Club for Girls in Letter to Young Self.
Tags: Letter to Young Self, women in science
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Allison Drew is a cell biologist. The organisms she studies keep getting smaller and smaller, as she started out studying kangaroos, moved on to study bugs and beetles, and is currently working with cancer cells.
Dear 12-year-old Allison,
I’m trying to remember what it felt like when I, that is you, were 12, and it feels far away to me now. When I look back at pictures of you, I see someone who was pretty unsure of herself – whether I was supposed to be a kid or adult, supposed to take pride in my accomplishments at school or to play them down. This year, 7th grade, you’re taking biology with Mrs. Quackenbush – your first real lab science class. Here are a few highlights to look forward to: you’ll dissect enormous grasshoppers and, even more alarming, study the human reproductive system in a room full of 12-year old boys.
What will stay with you the longest, though, is that you’ll experience a feeling of satisfaction from finding a place to use your growing skills of observation, a vocabulary to describe the things you observe, and techniques to try to analyze why those events are taking place – that is, you’ll learn to conduct a scientific experiment. To be able to break things down into simple parts, and to begin to understand them, even at the most basic level will be very comforting to you amidst the chaos and uncertainty of being 12. You’ll find that you can use these skills in school, in your jobs, and in your life all the time.
…you’ll dissect enormous grasshoppers and, even more alarming, study the human reproductive system in a room full of 12-year old boys.
Also, pay attention to Mrs. Quackenbush. You’ll find her soft-spoken, patient style will encourage you explore and understand the subjects you are studying, giving your room to ask questions and try to develop your own answers. I know you see yourself as pretty shy and awkward right now, and that sometimes you feel like the only alternative route is to develop a really extroverted, out-going personality. It has taken me a long time to realize that it’s very hard to change the basic features of your personality – and, actually, you wouldn’t want to, because it’s basic to who you are. The same traits that make you more of an observer than a participator – ‘shy’ in groups – are central to your abilities as a scientist, able to observe and understand before acting. That also is what makes you a good listener and empathizer, which is part of what your family and friends love about you. As you move on, through school and college and to become a biologist yourself, you’ll find many ways to work with and develop your strengths that will give you a sense of satisfaction and pride at who you’ve become.
Good luck, enjoy the journey, much love,
34-year old Allison
Allison is a cell biologist at Amgen in Cambridge, MA, where she has worked for 5.5 years. During her time at Amgen, she has worked primarily in drug development for oncology projects. Allison grew up in New York, and then got her BS in Biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and her M.S. in Environmental Science at University of California, Berkeley.