Today, over 40 members and friends from the UC Berkeley Graduate Women in Engineering Group joined together on Zoom to ask questions and listen to the wisdom of four outstanding female career scientists and engineers. As usual, the panelists were wonderfully open, brutally honest, and always inspirational with their insights. The discussion and event was organized by Maria Echeverría Molina and Alex Bruefach and moderated by Maria Echeverría Molina. This transcript was written by Alison Lui. Some quotes below have been paraphrased.
Our four panelists were:
Shauna McIntyre (SM)
Lourdes Valdez-Palacio (LVP)
Monica Barney (MB)
Lisa Pruitt (LP)
How did you decide to enter the field you’re currently in?
- “Go with your instinct even if it seems like a crazy move”
- MB: on leaving her job to go back to school, after already having a PhD in a different degree!
- “Follow your curiosity, not necessarily your passions … nothing is ever wasted… sometimes you can’t anticipate what will come in the future.”
- LP: on jumping between different science fields and worrying that they wouldn’t be relevant
- “Build trust with the people who work with you and for you, that’s the number one ingredient for success.”
- SM: on an interesting and unexpected job as a Night shift supervisor at the Ford truck plant
- “A colleague introduced me to a position at Rolls-Royce, then a friend
from Johnson & Johnson introduced me to a different job opportunity at Cummins: tapping into your community can open up immense opportunities.”
- LVP: on changing jobs multiple times from company to company
What did you take from your classes / degree and immediately apply to work?
- “I appreciated being an engineer because it gave me years of practice problem solving. The engineering rigor that becomes your DNA is just problem solving!”
What advice for your younger self
- “There are no mistakes. you’ll learn along the way what you’re doing.”
- On the question of whether doing an industrial postdoc would be a good idea for someone who wants to return to industry, MB added “Do a postdoc if you want. It won’t cut you off from future opportunities and if it does, then you didn’t want those opportunities to begin with!”
Have you experienced any gender discrimination and if so, how have you handled it?
- I have found occasions when it seems that others tiptoe around me, when I just want to be treated like everyone else. My advice is to “park your self-consciousness at the door.”
- “It hasn’t always been a walk in the park. But other people making assumptions about me or underestimating me was just other people showing me their hand.” Knowing that about others does take extra energy to think about and process, but it can play to my advantage in the end.
- I also want to say that traditionally feminine positive traits like collaborating, expressing appreciation and gratitude (as opposed to traditionally masculine positive traits like leadership or aggression) should be more appreciated!”
- “Many people in meetings have asked me to repeat myself, since I have an accent. I created a strategy of always being prepared to write what I was saying instead, so I was never misunderstood. I adapted and this strategy was very successful!”
- “It was hard in the beginning. When you’re breaking a mold of some sort, all eyes are on you. But my PhD advisor told me that was my silver lining. For example, when you’re giving a conference presentation and you’re the only female presenter. Give the very best talk in the room and no one will forget you. That was my beacon for not feeling like an imposter anymore. Having everyone’s attention is a great opportunity. That is true for anyone who is the first of anything.”
Have you ever felt excluded? What advice would you give to others in that position?
- Even when I’m managing a team, sometimes people on my team have technical conversations and they often forget that I’m an engineer too, and can be of help with the detailed science. In these cases I do have to remind them. It’s important to make them know it was not okay.
- At a previous job, a select group of people would go mountain biking together on the weekends, and a lot of work decisions would get made! But when that happened, I wasn’t the only one to be left out. These discussions left out stakeholders and were bad for our business. Further, this taught me that these people were not the people I wanted to continue working with.
What has your experience with having a family or having children and having a career?
- I have always had very supportive managers and colleagues. Even when I go to conferences, I’ve brought my daughter along. I’ve never felt discriminated against because I wanted to have children or have a family.
- I wish now that I would have pushed back against my managers who wanted me to get back to work right away after I just had my child. Back then, it felt like I had to get back to work to survive. And my poor husband didn’t get any paternity leave at all. That needs to also change.
- Respecting your body’s needs is very important! It has never been a problem for me with project management in fact, it has been a great benefit. In a kind way, insist on what you need.
- Some universities have incredible policies for materinity and paternity leave. Taking that time – all of it – is paving it for someone behind you.
Finally, what would your advice be to your younger self?
- “Nothing is ever wasted. Worry less. Trust the process. There really are no mistakes. Even if you fail, you will fail forward.”
- “If you hear someone say ‘that idea’s crazy’, that probably means you should do it.”
- “Be less hard on yourself”
- “Don’t worry so much about titles and getting to the top of the ladder. Enjoy the process. If you have to go down two steps for a position where you feel more passion for what you’re doing, don’t be afraid of it. It is what you should do.”