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Women in STEM Encourage Students to Have Confidence

Photo by Cassie Prettyman

Female students filled the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall for the Women’s Career Conversations luncheon, where they heard from fellow women who have succeeded in STEM careers.

The biannual Women’s Career Conversations luncheon was hosted by the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and the College of Life Sciences on February 7, 2017. Panelists included Laura C. Bridgewater, PhD, associate dean in the BYU College of Life Sciences; Jennifer Spinti, PhD, research associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Utah; Kaycee Anderson, program manager at Microsoft; and Sara Toole, microbiology section leader at Nelson Laboratories.

The panelists addressed everything from finding their babies covered in lipstick to weaving their way through the first six months at a new job.

Anderson described her first few months at Microsoft as “drinking from a fire hose.” The excess of new information was very overwhelming.

“It was a slow and steady process to learn what I felt like I needed to learn,” Anderson said. “The best thing that helped me was my manager and my mentor.”

When the topic of internships surfaced, Anderson emphasized how important it was for students to apply for something even if they don’t feel qualified. She said students shouldn’t doubt themselves because self-doubt kept Anderson from applying for many internships, which she regretted.

Toole also expressed how important it is to avoid excessive self-criticism, especially while going through life’s challenges.

“Don’t take everything too seriously, and be kind to yourselves as you’re dealing with the different things that happen in life,” Toole said. “Things will happen, and it’s OK.”

All of the panelists discussed how there is no one right way to balance career and family. Both Spinti and Bridgewater explained that everyone’s equilibrium is different and that the balance will continue to change throughout one’s career.

Mary Hendricks, an athletic training major, said that it was encouraging to hear from women about how they balanced the demands of both family and career.

“They didn’t let their career slow down their family, and they didn’t let their family slow down their career,” Hendricks said.

Stephanie Baird, a neuroscience major, said she appreciated that the panelists spoke about changing career paths along the way. Knowing that change is possible comforted Baird.

“Sometimes with science you end up with something so specific that you maybe don’t want to be boxed in to anything for the rest of your life,” Baird said. “You want that flexibility.”