Self-care, a buzzword that’s been heavily circulating Facebook News Feeds, Instagram posts, Pinterest boards, and the like for the past year, has gotten my attention. What is self-care? There are pictures of women doing yoga on the beach, drinking detoxifying teas and veggie shakes, lighting candles, humming mantras, and trying the latest and greatest workout regimen.
Do they work?
While these are perfectly acceptable ways to unwind, none of them ever appealed to me. Here is my story of self-care, from an engineer’s perspective.
Sometimes you have those weeks where your assignments, extracurricular activities, and personal life seem to pick up at the same time. This is the part of college and post-graduation life that isn’t fun. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and slide into a full-scale meltdown.
I was becoming exhausted, and my perfectionist tendencies did not foster healthy reactions to stress.
I decided that it was time to get in control.
I wanted to change myself. Changing my mindset felt like a daunting task, and I felt mentally overloaded from my coursework. Therefore, I decided to focus on a physical change and begin working out.
Changing it Up
I started small by going to the gym once a week with a class at the UCLA Recreation Center. It was insanely difficult. During my first class, I left halfway through the course. I ended up being extremely sore for the following two days. As soon as I recovered, I went back for another beating. What started out as a sporadic workout steadily evolved into a consistent routine.
I was going to the gym three or four times a week. I noticed substantial physical and mental improvements. My body felt better, I slept better, and my mental resilience to stress drastically improved.
This change did not happen overnight. The process occurred over a span of two years.
Nothing sustainable comes easy! It takes discipline and consistency.
You would think I would have learned this from my chemical engineering courses on batch reactors, where we discussed the parameters required to maintain a sustainable and efficient process. However, as a student, batch reactors were an abstract concept, and this real-life analog was far more tangible. I started with a physical transformation but ended with a mental transformation by building myself up slowly from the beginning.
Here are some actions you can take to master your thoughts and achieve your maximum potential.
1. Recognize that if you have trouble practicing mindfulness or meditation, you can start by taking care of your body as an effective alternative. Anything works, so pick an activity you love. I dabbled in running, sports, group fitness classes, and yes, even yoga
2. Realize that it’s better to fully commit yourself to one change at a time and start slowly. Do not overcommit. Consistency is key. Efficient code is written methodically, with numerous steps day-by-day, not in one mega-swoop. Chemical engineers design plants section by section. In the same logical and consistent way, you can design your transformation. Build yourself in a sustainable way.
3. Think of your self-care journey as a long-term process and be patient. Going to the gym once a week for 8 weeks straight is better than going 4 times a week for 2 weeks, and quitting shortly after. Be honest with yourself about what you are willing to do, and where you are at.
4. It is 100% OK to mess up along the way. I did. Coding, machines, and engineering processes, for the most part, get better in a linear process, but emotions are a completely different animal. We go up, down, sideways, and we all grow in different ways and timelines.
Sometimes we have dark days and, even though we know better, we take the wrong turn. That’s normal and expected.
Mistakes are inevitable. This is when you put your engineering hat on and remember that delays do not mean an end can’t be achieved, it just means it may take longer complete.
I am Sonya Davidson. I am a life-long learner. I hold five academic degrees, and I am still studying and learning, but that is critical in today’s ever-changing technology. For example, I recently attended the Microsoft Tech Summit: building your cloud skills with the latest in Azure in Tel Aviv.
As the founder & CEO of H2 Energy Now, a Beer Sheva-based company focused on renewable energy storage by the disassociation of the water molecule through electromagnetic waves, I’ve emphasized through my leadership that perseverance, determination, and vision are critical to our success.
H2 Energy Now has developed the most efficient and cost-effective way of creating hydrogen. H2 Energy Now allows householders and commercial premises to store Alternative Energy effectively, 24 hours a day, by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Our PCT process separates the water molecule through the use of radio waves, a new application to an existing technology. Our company’s goal is to change the world. We are going to do that by enabling 24/7 use of alternative energy. We are going to achieve this by products for energy storage.
It has been a fun and challenging voyage starting a company. Through the process, I have assembled a team of advisors, and mentors, frequently interacted with our customers, and developed and built prototypes, often on my kitchen table.
After developing and iterating on the initial prototypes, I reached the proof of principle prototype stage, attended and graduated from an intense 6-month accelerator, filled our Intellectual Property, and now, we are presently commercializing the technology. I am actively presenting our renewable energy solution to potential customers from all over the world.
As of June 2017, we have performed over 217 product development steps. We are determined.
One of the lessons I learned over time is the importance of words. Yes, words.
Communication is key.
Your choice of words in explaining your company and mission, often described in as little as 30 seconds to 5-minute pitches, is vital.
I have also learned that it is not my perspective or knowledge that matter, but the audience’s understanding.
To strengthen this integral skill, I have taken and continue to take many classes.
I choose to attend a 6-month intensive accelerator on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and since I don’t have a car, that meant waking up at 5 AM to catch a 6:10 AM bus to the city of Ashdod. If I missed this bus, the next would not arrive until 10 AM, meaning I would not arrive until 12 PM. It made sense to make these kinds of sacrifices to place myself and company in a place to succeed. I was also, by default, always the first one there, and always on time.
A friend said women must be leaders when they are breaking new ground.
To be leader means having a long-term perspective, listening more than you talk, learning from the situations we place ourselves in, and learning something from everyone we meet.
I have a philosophy which works great for a female-owned start-up.
We constantly apply to competitions, and write the best application we can, often against 5,000 to over 10,000 competitors. If they accept us, great! If they don’t, we still won because we believed in ourselves.
We presented in NYC as part of the Israel Meets NYC contest. We were selected as one of Europe’s Top Sustainable Entrepreneurs for 2016. We also made the finals in several other competitions across Europe and Israel.
We were also just in Toulouse, France in September 2017 presenting as part of the Technical Solutions for Worlds Environmental Challenges sponsored by Airbus Accelerator. The international challenge was highly competitive. Only 10 were companies chosen to present from over 6,000 applicants from all over the world. I got into a winner’s mindset, and spent time familiarizing myself with Toulouse by learning all I could about the city and visiting the museums.
Although there are lulls, being an entrepreneur means riding on top the wave at times too.
The High-Temperature Grant Challenge was focused on resolving a problem that a utility company was having. They had a room in which the temperature exceeded 500°C, and they needed to find a safe and effective inspection method. Before the challenge, they shut down the generators, and cut a hole in the ceiling to drop a person in (with protective clothing).
We were the first female winner from Israel to become a 2017 Grand Challenge grant winner.
Currently, we are in 3 challenges to apply our technology to aerospace solutions. We are working with NASA to develop these applications. The applications include utilizing our technology for energy storage solutions in space, drones for access to challenging environments, and with other forms of life other than water.
Another challenge we are taking part in is with a solar renewable energy company to clear dirt off of solar panels.
I don’t have a TV, which gives me the time to pursue so many competitions.
Einstein’s Thought Experiments
As we were developing our technology, we realized we could modify the structural arrangement of water in our disassociation chamber. I had just finished reading Einstein in Berlin by Thomas Levenson. In this book, he outlined an effective tool called thought experiments.
I adopted this tool in solving our water arrangement problem for identifying a highly efficient design.
First, I visualized water in space, where it forms a perfect, spherical ball. This is part of the solution, but I did not want to take my product to space yet.
Next, I increased the pressure, and visualized the water occupying only half the space. This was not helpful in our technology, because even though it created higher pressure hydrogen gas, it also increased water’s ability to share energy, therefore decreasing its efficiency.
I then left those visualizations in my mind, and thought deeply about the problem we are trying to solve.
Then, one Friday night, after a wonderful meal walking home, I realized the solution.
I remembered seeing a spider web with droplets on it after the rain.
Droplets increase the efficiency because it prevents water from sharing energy, resulting in a more efficient arrangement to separate the water molecule. For our technology, we use plastic to create the spider web, and spray the water into our disassociation chamber.
One of the things I feel that makes me successful is giving back.
I have presented to university students at an accelerator in Tel Aviv. Another way is mentoring. I ask my fellow entrepreneurs about their challenges, and help them develop effective solutions to these challenges. I also spend time every Friday talking with a 102-year-old woman. She helps me focus on what is important in life, and shows me insights into my week. We are not related, but we are great friends.
I witnessed extreme gender disparities early in my not-so-ordinary childhood, an experience that enabled me to quickly recognize the barriers faced by women and minorities in science. I was born to teenage parents in April 1984 in Paris, France. In October of the same year, my father became a single parent, tasked with raising me while finishing high school and undergoing intensive training as a student-athlete. Shortly after, I was sent to his country of origin, Morocco, to live with his family for a couple of months while he was competing internationally.
In Morocco, my father’s family owned a pharmacy and would travel the country for months to distribute extra medical stocks and provide free emergency care. Their volunteering project grew quickly and before I turned five, their medical help expanded to Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali, countries that desperately needed access to healthcare. I spent months at a time in these countries, learning the local language and making lifetime friendships with children my age.
Through this experience, I quickly realized that women faced profound gender inequalities in these countries. Limited access to education, medical care, financial dependency, and lack of decision-making power made them dreadfully vulnerable.
There was no escaping from the utterly obvious reality that in these countries, women were considered of a lower rank in society, and for the majority of them, life was bound to a destined fate. I shared an entire childhood and countless memories with little girls who had the same dreams and hopes as I did, and there was no plausible explanation as to why an entire society would not only accept, but also promote such an unjust imbalance between men and women.
Moving back to France just before the age of eleven felt like stepping into a time machine, fast-forwarding through several decades of civil rights movements. However, while women could freely express their opinions and decide for themselves, I was not convinced this present society treated men and women equally.
At school, my science teacher did not dedicate the same amount and quality of attention as he did to boys. The physics instructor advised me to partner up with boys because they “tend to be better than girls” and the chemistry teacher would continuously repeat it was “okay to fail at the exams, girls are just not good at it.”
In high school, I chose to play soccer, but was told I would hurt myself and would be better off watching the games and supporting my male friends. The unconscious belief that women are not capable individuals was still perceptible. Unlike the blatant disparity in Africa, this gender bias presented itself in an almost invisible and discreet way. I was not forbidden to do things, physically threatened or mentally oppressed, instead, I was continuously told what I could and could not do, who to become and how to behave.
Surely enough I would have followed these silent rules, if not for my stubbornness and determination. I was driven to become a scientist to think critically, evaluate things rationally, and build unbiased opinions.
My scientific journey in a male-dominated environment reinforced my desire to help create a more inclusive environment for women of all backgrounds, minorities, and underrepresented ethnic groups. As scientific research is intrinsically dependent on human resources and ingenuity, it is absolutely essential that all genders, races and ethnicities are equally involved. I do not currently possess immediate solutions to create a fully inclusive and bias-free environment, but I believe communicating openly about these issues is a first step in creating a more diverse community.
I am committed to continually educating myself and my students on diversity-related issues. I am hopeful that one day, every science classroom and research lab will be filled equally with boys and girls of diverse ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses, where everybody will feel welcome and deserving of the same opportunity.
It is our responsibility as women in STEM to foster such an environment and I consider it a privilege to do my part.
When I was a child, I was more interested in little robotic toys than dolls. I was obsessed with the motions and features of robots. I was also curious about the wires and boards inside the toys. I would ask myself such questions as, “How do these robots move so perfectly in that way?”
During middle and high school, I put all my focus in physics and computer science courses so that I could learn circuits and C++. I was obsessed. I wanted to learn as much as possible about electronics.
I moved to America in 2012. I went to a wonderful university in New York, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. That is where my engineering life began. The journey of learning has been long and hard in my undergraduate years, especially as a foreigner. Thanks to a lot of help from my friends and professors, when I graduated, I obtained Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering with honors. My passion for engineering only strengthened through this experience and support.
In 2016, I started my M.S. in Electrical Engineering at USC. I have made lots of friends through the program, and it has been a fantastic life experience. My research has allowed me to develop complicated techniques of processing images in whatever way I want. Imagine a living, breathing Photoshop, except I do it with my own algorithm! Through the EE program at USC, I also acquired skills in machine learning, a big, trending topic in the field of engineering. Machine learning is based on probability, but it’s a lot more fun than traditional probability.
I also had an internship in a medical company as an algorithm engineer. When I started the internship, I didn’t have any background in biomedical engineering or physiology, so for the first two weeks, I studied physiology by myself and used what I had just learned to do pattern extraction and process raw brainwave data. That’s just one reason why I love this field. As an engineer, you will encounter several opportunities to learn new knowledge and use your creativity to solve different problems in various fields. Your capabilities extend way beyond what you expect.
Now as a graduate student, I only take courses I find interesting. It is true that many people choose certain fields that can give them a good salary or sometimes they just want an easy A. However, I invite you to explore your motivations some more. Some important questions to ask yourself include, what is your definition of a fantastic life? How important is a large salary if you don’t enjoy what you do? Does your career get you excited?
“Do you really want to work in process controls, or are you just trying to get a surface-level feel for the job?”
The question above had been privately asked by various people during the first few years that I worked in the oil & gas industry. Granted, it was and still is a legitimate question for any individual. Although the enthusiasm and new perspectives of engineering college graduates can be a breath of fresh air in most companies, there can also be a sense of wariness from more experienced employees who are cautious about training people that are merely dabbling in the work with no intention of staying beyond one year in the field.
Personally, I am a proponent of those who are unafraid to dabble and try what is outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes the most unexpected yet wonderful outcomes are the direct result of just “trying something out”!
Although job titles such as “process controls engineer”, “controls engineer”, “control systems engineer”, etc all seem to have little variation to them, there are discrepancies that segregate different fractions of work within the generic “process controls” term.
This article will attempt to cover one major difference in order to help any readers who are curious about this line of work or who are on the cusp of dabbling in this field. Please note that this is just one person’s experience in the oil & gas industry, and that the arena of process controls can vary depending on the type of industry that is being discussed (pharmaceutical, food and drinks, etc).
In the oil & gas industry, people utilize computers and automated systems to help monitor and operate running facilities such as refineries and petrochemical plants. Yes, people still walk around to visually look at operating equipment within the facilities, and they can use a significant amount of muscle strength to turn valves and lift heavy loads. However, most competitive facilities also utilize the advantages of modern technology to run and optimize their plants from within a centralized building.
The generic term “process controls” is usually given to the department of people who directly work on the automated systems that run and optimize the plants. These automated systems can include anything from computer keyboards/microphones/monitor setups to the Windows OS-based computers that run specialized process controls software (some industry staples would be Honeywell Experion PKS or Siemens PCS7) to the physical hardware (field termination wiring, input/output cards, communication modules, etc) that allows the process controls software to be able to detect and control how physical instrumentation valves in the field should be moving. A jack-of-all-trades could attempt to work on everything in the job field description, but that’s not necessarily the best way to utilize human resources (especially in large corporations).
The individuals who work on maintaining the health of the process controls systems are generally referred to as “control systems engineers” or “systems engineers”, even though they may be in the generic department labeled as process controls. These people ensure that servers, computer console stations, and process control hardware (communication modules, processors, input/output cards, etc) are fully functional at all times. Even system network interactions can fall into this category, though there can be a separate system network department that works on maintaining items such as firewalls and routers.
When process control system improvements are released by their respective vendors in the form of software patches or system upgrades, the control system engineers have to be very careful in their roadmap on how to execute the upgrades (especially since they want to minimize disruptions to running facilities). Currently, many companies are trying to figure out how to maintain and/or replace obsolescent process controls systems from the 1970s and 1980s, so job opportunities in this field are plentiful. I have found that people of varying engineering and other technical backgrounds can have control systems jobs, but most of the lead control system engineers that I have worked with actually have electrical engineering backgrounds.
In contrast, “process control engineers” are generally those who concentrate on improving the physical process of making product by utilizing the tools provided by the process control systems. For example, if there was a need to balance the amount of feed gas A going into a reactor with the amount of feed gas B going into the same reactor, then the process control engineer would implement a control strategy on the process control system to automate the ratio balance of the two feed gases.
A control strategy can be likened to specialized computer code that is created by using a library of specialized computer blocks to make a desired action or calculation occur within the process control system. Although the process control engineer would need to understand the nuances and limitations of the process control system, he/she would be expected to place more focus on understanding the chemical processes of the plants and applying automated control strategies to help make more product (aka generate more money) or reduce utility usage (aka help save more money by spending less on raw materials).
In my experience, process control engineers generally have a strong background in chemical engineering and are sometimes considered to be process engineers who are especially “computer savvy”!
Evidently, there is a sizeable difference between working on the “systems side” of process controls and working on the “process side” of process controls. If there are any readers who feel as if they may want to try their hands in this field, I would suggest that they think about which aspect of process controls is more interesting to them. One analogy I like to think about is whether someone prefers learning about the tool itself (systems side) or if someone prefers learning about how to apply the tool (process side).
Either way, there is no wrong choice – modern technology and automation are here to stay, and prospects within process controls will only grow and change as long as the voracious consumer demand for products continue to increase.
The short answer is YES, yes you do!
So why do you, me, we sometimes question whether we deserve to be where we are, deserve to have our opinions heard, or deserve to be congratulated or rewarded for our achievements?
This feeling is very simply described as imposter syndrome. In 1978, two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes named this feeling we all have and described it as “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds” (The New York Times, 2015).
The good thing about this is that you are not alone, most people, at some point in their life, have that moment where they feel that they are not good enough, or that they don’t deserve the amazing results of their hard work. This also includes Presidents, athletes, artists, and doctors. The list can go on and on.
As a woman in engineering, I feel that I am more susceptible to this feeling because we truly are an under-represented minority within the field. The National Science Foundation reported that in 2015, there were approximately only 15% of women employed as engineers (NSF, 2016). Because of this, we often feel that we are representing all women through our position and we second guess our decisions. This may be because we don’t know if we are correctly portraying the minds of our gender.
Some other effects of imposter syndrome include:
- Not applying for jobs, promotions, and other employment opportunities
- Not submitting papers to conferences or journals
- Disclaiming or understanding [our] experience and skill when speaking or writing
- Nervousness about talking to others in [our] field, especially if those others are perceived as highly skilled/experienced
- Feeling like a fraud
- Worrying that someone will find out [our] lack of qualifications and fire [us]
- Having higher stress
- Overpreparing for tasks
- Attributing successes to chance or luck
(Reference: Geek Feminism Wiki)
In many cases, these effects can be so debilitating and detrimental to our lives and our career. We don’t go after that promotion, the better job, the raise, and sometimes we might even leave the field altogether.
Now that we have put a name to the monster in our heads, how do we go about preventing this from affecting our careers?
- You only represent you
Don’t take in and bottle up all the pressures of the world. That just leads to unnecessary stress. After you make a decision, own it! Don’t second guess yourself. Your ideas are your own and are not inclusive of who you may represent.
First of all, you don’t represent all women, every single person out there is different and come from different upbringings, education levels, and experiences.
Second of all, you and I both know that you came to that decision through a mixture of past experiences, knowledge of the subject, and careful thought and organization. By expressing the idea to your team or manager with the confidence it deserves, you will see that it may be more likely be considered and implemented. Even if it isn’t, when another challenge comes up, your colleagues will feel more comfortable going to for your input because when you show confidence in your abilities, they will have more confidence in you. Also, even if the other person has a PhD or twenty years of experience on you, your fresh perspective to a topic will bring out ideas that they have not considered which may be more applicable to solving the problem at hand.
- “I just wanted to…” “Just giving you a heads up…” “Just wondering if you saw…”
Writing or responding to emails constitute a large part of my day. Most days, I will be emailing my supervisor rather than just walking a couple doors down to speak with her face-to-face. As technology continues to become integrated into the workplace, so does the written word rather than spoken, and though we may be assertive in our everyday conversation, we may not be coming across that way in emails. Many young people in their careers will preface their emails with long rambling explanations how they do not know if they did something correct, they are not confident in their results, and basically undermining the countless hours of effort they put into completing an assignment.
A particularly common “weak word” used in emails is “just.” The number of times I have added “just” at the beginning of emails or seen the even newer hires add it into theirs is ridiculous. When I was first adding it into my emails, I thought it was polite, but when I saw others doing it, I realized it was to soften our confidence in our work so if we made a mistake, we can defend ourselves.
As I mentioned before, confidence is key! If you are not confident in your work, how will someone else be confident in it and let you move on to higher risk or harder assignments? My first instinct to preface my emails like this, so what I started doing is writing in a way that naturally flows for me, then going back through and removing any words and sentences that expresses low confidence in my work.
However, you are also not perfect and overconfidence can be a negative in the workplace too, so my happy medium is to end emails with statements like these that invite constructive criticism without undermining my work:
“Let me know where you would like to see changes.”
“Let me know what you think.”
“I would love to speak with you about your interpretation after your review.”
“This was my first time working on a report like this and I’m just not sure if this is what you were looking for or if I completed it correctly.”
“Just wanted to forward this on to you to see what you thought about the report.”
- We don’t need to “man up” and get out there and “break a nail”
How many times have you attended a conference and someone has told you that it is time to “man up and break a nail” to get ahead? I have personally heard this too many times to count and it is one of my least favorite statements.
Why do you ask?
Because you and I do not need to become someone we are not to fit and excel in the workplace. By being told to “man up” society is perpetuating the stereotype that being feminine is a negative and the only way to be successful is to embody masculine personalities. Each one of us brings something new to the table and whether we are in a dress or a pantsuit, that does not affect the way we think through problems to come up with great solutions. This is one of the key reasons women have imposter syndrome, as we do not feel welcome as ourselves, we feel like we need to be someone else to know that we are producing good work and are heard.
Telling women to “man up” is not empowering, we are selling women something by putting them down and that is just destructive in getting ahead in the workplace. Therefore, just be yourself and focus on your work, not how you come across to other people.
There are so many more nuances that we could get into to unravel imposter syndrome, but I am going to stop at these three. However, before we wrap up, I wanted to leave you with an experiment. The monster in your brain may never go away, but you can tame it by coming up with techniques that you can implement whenever you are feeling down to increase your confidence.
For the next five days, I would like you to try one of these each day and see which one works the best for you. Not all of them, or maybe none of them will work for you so I want to challenge you to keep exploring until you find something that does. For example, power poses are not my thing, it makes me uncomfortable and doing them in the morning or before an important meeting makes me feel weird and jittery rather than empowered. Instead, I use my sense of style to express who I am and do not care whether I come across as too “girly” because if I look good, I feel good.
Try these out and connect with me on LinkedIn to let me know what worked for you and what didn’t, I would love to hear about your experiences:
- Keep a journal that you can easily access throughout the day and write down feelings of insecurity throughout the day, once it is out of your head, it won’t feel overwhelming anymore.
- Do a power pose every morning and right before a big meeting or interview. See this TED talk first:
- Dress the way you want, not the way people expect you to. If you have a strict dress code in your office, find ways to accessorize that brings in some of your personality like adding a pin of your favorite band to your laptop bag or putting on a bright necklace.
- Start a file of people saying nice things about you. I have a “Yay Me!” file on my desktop that I drop nice emails into and go back and look at when I’m having a particularly bad day. Also, keep a list of achievements close by. Keep adding to this list weekly! Whenever you are having an especially difficult day – reference this file.
- Fake it till you make it; On a bad day, especially when it feels like the world is coming crumbling down around you, actively get up from your desk every hour to walk around for 5 minutes and smile at everyone you run into. Smiling will encourage your body to release serotonin, actually making you happier.
Richard, Carls. “Learning to Deal With Imposter Syndrome”. The New York Times. 26 October 2015
Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering Data Tables. National
Science Foundation. August 2016
Imposter Syndrome. Geek Feminism Wiki. http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Impostor_syndrome
Cuddy Amy. “Your body language may shape who you are.” Ted Talk.
https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are. June 2012
5 Ways to Stay Relevant
My name is Meghana Kumar. I graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering back in 2014. Immediately after graduating, I began working for a company that topped the Fortune 500 list. I grasped technical concepts quickly, and I was determined to develop my soft-skills along the way. I assumed my drive would lead me to have a long and successful career.
I was naïve, and as you can probably guess, I was wrong.
About a year after I started working, the refinery I was employed at became sold to a smaller company. I learned the new company did not have an employee evaluation process or a robust rotation program, and I felt my career falter. Lay-offs began, and it felt like engineers were making a mass exodus to fill competitors’ openings. I felt stuck in my job – there were no prospects of promotions, and rumors of a second round of lay-offs were gaining steam.
I share this part of my life to let people know that your high GPA, your glowing performance reviews, or your employer’s name-recognition is not always enough to keep you from falling into a career slump, or even unemployment. However, we can take certain steps to prevent from falling victim to circumstances beyond our control.
- Join engineering social and professional groups
Remember those clubs you were part of in college? Many of those clubs have professional chapters. These groups can be a good way to meet people, build a network, and find more experienced engineers who can be a mentor to you. If you’re having career woes, these groups also give you a space to talk about them with like-minded peers. Some great examples or professional societies are the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE) and Women in Computing (WIC).
- Stay on top of the job market
Even if you feel that you’re currently in a stable job, it never hurts to review your options regularly. I thought my position was highly stable, but events out of your control do happen. Find a few sources you like that provide customized job opening lists. Many industry-specific organizations will post job openings in their newsletters. If you have a “moon-shot” company that you want to work for one day, sign up for their job notifications. Who knows – you might see an opening you would be perfect for!
- Invest in yourself through training and education
Many companies subsidize higher education. If you are in a position to get a Master’s, or even a second Bachelor’s, you can clearly distinguish yourself from your peers. Learning itself is also a joy and a skill, and may present opportunities you had never even considered before.
If your company does not subsidize education, they may still offer training you can participate in. Your company may also be willing to subsidize third party training or allow you to take a few months leave of absence to pursue a certificate course. There are also several free, online (or substantially discounted) courses you can take through Coursera, Khan Academy, and online Masters programs for less than $10,000.
- Practice compassion
Sometimes, no matter how proactive or hard-working you are, you can still find yourself without a career or in financial difficulty. In your lifetime, while this may never happen to you, you will probably meet a few people in this boat. Try not to make assumptions on how deserved or undeserved someone’s fortune is. Remember the importance of a strong network, and introduce them to the groups you are a part of and the job openings you are aware of. After all, they may one day be able to more than return the favor to you.
- Cultivate interests outside of work
When things at work get rough, it’s helpful to be able to get away from it all for an hour or two. Find a sport or hobby you can be wholly focused on (my choices are hiking, reading, or bouldering). Giving yourself a mental break from your career worries will help you re-visit issues with a fresh mind and perspective later.
Today is a very good day to talk about space. The National Space Council resumed last week after being inactive for twenty-four years. For a space enthusiast, such as myself, it’s encouraging to see political goals align with the goal to further expand space exploration. We put humans on the moon in 1969. For the politicians at the time, and most citizens, that was enough. For engineers and scientists, on the other hand, that was only the beginning of the ongoing struggle to fund risky, but potentially life-changing, space programs.
The “Space Race”, the competition between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union to go to the moon, was followed by a very anti-climatic end. The U.S.A. “won” by being the first to land on the moon. However, there was more interest in politics than science. After the 70’s, space exploration was no longer a hot topic. That is, until the Mars Science Laboratory, more popularly known as Curiosity, captivated people and flooded the media with high-definition photos of the surface of Mars.
In 2015, The Martian movie came out. The film was meant to inspire a new wave of space supporters. Today, our Mars endeavors are not only supported by astronomers, engineers, and scientists, but also political officials and business heads.
Now, more than ever, there are opportunities and challenges that require a diversity of thought to tackle these new, out-of-this-world problems. Not to mention, the need to have a diversity of opinions shape the way and the laws needed to become an interplanetary society.
A person who exemplifies the new face of the old aerospace industry is SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell: “From my perspective, it’s really risk management to ensure that humans have the ability to go somewhere else in case there were to be some huge disaster on Earth.” She strongly believes in the need to establish a serious exploration program. By serious, I mean one that has a serious budget.
Unlike NASA’s effort to discover things about our world and the space that surrounds us, SpaceX is exploring radical and risky methods of space exploration. Although NASA works with the most cutting-edge technology, provided by giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, space exploration accounts for a very small amount of the aerospace industry’s resources. The future of space exploration and the hope of it becoming a profitable industry is in the private sector.
I am working in network engineering at the Deep Space Network (DSN), managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The output of the brilliant minds I work with is outstanding. For example, the people who designed the exciter system that operates the 70-meter antenna I operate is sensitive enough to sense a whisper in space. That is truly amazing. Why should these abilities and brilliant minds be pinched and picked for every penny?
The demand for spacecrafts on the DSN calls for a true expansion. Another hot topic up for discussion is the need for easier ways launch spacecrafts, and possibly moon settlements.
Will the next brilliant mind that leads the charge in this industry be you?
I think of leadership for female engineers as a windy road that is slightly uphill. Windy because of society and my peers will always be pointing me towards different directions. Slightly uphill because there is a cultural gender bias against women in the workplace that is hard to pinpoint and hard to break.