June 20, 2016
Learn from the trailblazers: Advice for women in STEM fields
The forecast for STEM fields is sunnier than ever.
More than a million new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs will be added to the US workforce by 2020. Back in 2013, President Obama called STEM classes a critical component of a country’s innovation and global competitiveness and, as such, identified them as a top initiative for U.S. education.
Despite comprising half the population, women hold less than a quarter of STEM positions in the United States. Women represent an untapped pool of talent in these fields and could be instrumental in kicking off a flourishing age of STEM in America.
It’s an exciting time to be studying STEM fields, and inspiring and forging the way for future generations of female STEM professionals makes it all the better. But before you take the leap, learn from the trailblazers who came before you. Let their experiences light the way for yours.
9 pieces of expert advice from women in STEM fields
1. Ignore pressure to pursue a different field
Don’t let input from others sidetrack your experience. Let your passions, talents, curiosities, inspirations and life’s mission drive your schooling and career.
“I am glad that I didn’t accept my father’s wisdom on pursuing an engineering major,” says CTO of Quali Joan Wrabetz, who wanted to hone her science and math acumen but faced scrutiny and discouragement from her father on her career choice.
“If I had been more realistic, I would not have my three patents and I would not have a rich and varied career as a technologist and innovator. I am still working to change the world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything!”
2. Network your way to jobs you didn’t even know existed
Networking is invaluable to the health of any professional’s career — but it’s even more important in STEM fields, which rapidly evolve and develop new positions to meet the needs of the market.
“There are tons of opportunities out there for a STEM degree,” says Caitlin Garrett, senior marketing data analyst at Yodle. “It helps to chat with people in the industry you’re interested in to get a feel for what types of jobs you might like, and for jobs you might not know about.”
Garrett continues: “My job — data scientist — was not even invented until I was in college, so it certainly wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing. The job you end up with might not be invented yet if you’re in your first couple of years.”
3. You’re more than a stereotype
Don’t listen to the perceptions and judgments of others. Your motivations and inspirations for entering STEM fields should be the sole driving force behind what you choose to study and, ultimately, the greatness you achieve.
“I learned that stereotypes are just opinions from misinformed or misguided individuals, and not a rule. Do not allow yourself to be limited by anything based on opinion. If you truly enjoy doing something, learn everything you can about it and don’t stop learning,” says Katie Franz, engineer at YOU Technology.
“STEM fields are exploding at an amazing rate and anyone who is interested in expanding their understanding in science, technology, engineering and math should be able to do so with little or no hindrance,” she adds.
4. You’re more than your gender
Women in STEM fields are outnumbered by their male counterparts. But just because you’re an exception in your workplace doesn’t mean you can’t contribute at the highest levels. Lead your coworkers with courage!
“Gender is fluid. Social structures are not. Escape them whenever you have the opportunity. Break and bend them whenever you possibly can,” says Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, author of Women in Tech.
5. Be open to learning new skills
If you have the gumption to learn new skills and stay on top of developing technologies, you may set yourself up to take advantage of new opportunities as a new graduate.
“It’s a really cool time to be in STEM because everything is expanding and changing so quickly that there are a lot of opportunities for new graduates,” Garrett adds. “In some cases, the technology that people are using is so new that it’s hard to find people who know the ropes, which provides a great learning opportunity for a tenacious graduate.”
6. See your career as trailblazing for future generations of women
Nothing in life is easy — but who are you to let a few hurdles stand in your way? See yourself as a pioneering professional in the STEM field for future generations.
“I would like to tell women entering STEM fields today that if they do not look past the possible hurdles, then how will we make the field more accepting for the next generation of women?” Wrabetz says.
She continues: “You have the great opportunity to enter a better, more accepting workplace than I did — one that is not perfect, but one which you can definitely make even more accepting for your daughters (and sons).”
7. Capitalize on this pioneering age of technology
Now more than ever is an exciting time to work in a STEM field — and anyone up for the challenge can participate. Wheeler Van Vlack tells women to keep in mind that getting into STEM is an opportunity to use some of the most incredible tools humankind has ever created.
“The media is focusing so much on what’s wrong with tech that we forget to discuss how amazing this field is,” she says. “Tech is an extraordinary field of human endeavor, and if you want to take part in it you are absolutely capable, able, and welcome to be part of an amazing experience in life’s journey.”
8. Study up on coding … you won’t be sorry!
Use college to gain a broad foundation of coding. For every piece of technology that influences, interrupts and permeates our lives, there is a human who taught it to do what it does. Garrett says she wishes she had learned to code better — and in more languages — because it’s something she does every day in her career now.
9. Put up a good fight
There’s no question that the road to a STEM career is a challenging one. The classes are rigorous and the learning curve once you get into the working world can be steep. The road might even be rockier for women breaking into a field that has been traditionally dominated by men. But don’t lose sight of why you got into the field in the first place.
“My piece of advice? Have thick skin!” says Apryl DeLancey, Data Scientist at Social Age Media. “Be assertive. Fight for yourself the way you would for your best friend.”
Go out & blaze your trail
We are witnessing exhilarating growth in the STEM fields right now. Never before have such innovative technologies and advanced tools been available — and some of the greatest technology ever created hasn’t even been built yet! This is a field that will truly shape the future of humankind.
Let these words of wisdom from women in STEM fields serve as your inspiration to follow your passions and pursue greatness. To learn more about STEM and how The College of St. Scholastica is getting involved, check out: Women in STEM: How St. Scholastica is joining the movement.
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