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Sage Advice for Women in STEM

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Female students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematical sciences) gathered for good food and good advice at the Women’s Career Conversations Luncheon on September 22, 2015.

The luncheon is a companion event to the STEM Career Fair where successful women working in STEM fields have the opportunity to address female STEM students on the opportunities, challenges, and rewards associated with STEM careers.

This year’s panelists included Catalina Johnson (BS ’12, Mechanical Engineering), Cindy L. Snow (MS ’96, Computer Science), Emily Judd (BS ’08, Food Sciences), and Heidi Larsen (BS ’10, Information Systems).

“I’ve been meaning to go to these meetings for my whole career here,” physics student Leanne Lunsford said. “I’m hoping to understand a little bit more how women feel about their careers, specifically in physics and science.”

After the panelists were introduced, they answered questions from the audience. Many questions revolved around balancing work and family life.

“It’s a very unique decision that has to be made case-by-case based on your exact situation,” Johnson said. “There’s really no right answer and no wrong answer.”

Larsen advocated that each woman ask for help from her spouse and that she help him in return.

“You have to have an understanding husband,” Larsen said. “We share the load a lot. We’re constantly working together to make it happen.”

Snow described how she took an eight-year break from her career when she got pregnant. Upon reentering the workforce, Snow thought she would have a lot to learn.

“It just wasn’t the case. I learned so much about the basic theory here at BYU that adapting to a new language or updated hardware was no problem at all,” Snow said.

Another question the panelists answered was how they chose their areas of expertise.

“While you’re at school, you should focus on doing the things that excite you the most,” Johnson said. “Feel free to specialize in whatever interests you, and if it doesn’t directly lead to a career, one day those skills will come back and help you.”

When asked about the best way to approach networking, Johnson suggested the women simply be sociable.

“Let your personality shine through, and then when they see your résumé or when they get an email from you later, that’s something they can remember,” Johnson said.

Judd advised students to be themselves and stand up for their beliefs.

“When you’re insecure or you doubt yourself, it prevents you from really being successful,” Judd said. “As long as you stay true to who you are, you’re going to be comfortable, even if you’re outside a comfortable situation.”

—Ashley Lee, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences