- My father was a civil engineer. When I started college, he advised me to study anything except engineering. His reasoning was that if you’re any good at engineering, you don’t get to do it after a while. He had become, essentially, an urban planner. I don’t think he was particularly unhappy with the direction his career took, but it hadn’t been what he had planned. I did reach a point in my career where pretty much all I did was go to meetings and write email, but I enjoyed doing policy related work (e.g. I had some work related to international cooperation) and I really liked opportunities to be a bridge between different government and industry organizations. That did require me to be able to talk intelligently with people who were doing the down in the trenches sort of engineering work, so I certainly don’t feel that my background was wasted.
- There was a while (in the early 1970’s, I think) when Dad had a female engineering assistant and a male secretary. I am fairly sure he had hired Carole because she had gone to his alma mater, the City College of New York (or, as it was usually referred to in our house, The Harvard of the Proletariat). She certainly experienced plenty of sexism in her time. People would come into the office and, even though Carole was sitting at a drafting table poring over blueprints and Marvin was typing at the front desk, people would speak to her when they had administrative questions.
- The National Science Foundation does still have summer programs for high school students, but I haven’t found any evidence that PIB still exists. There was some study of alumni of the program, maybe in the early 1980’s. I think that almost all of the alumni had gone into biochemistry related careers, with a lot having gone to medical school and a lot into relevant academic fields. If I recall correctly, there were two exceptions - me, with my engineering career, and one guy (not my year and not someone I knew) who had become an architect.
- The Columbia University Science Honors Program does, however, and I can certainly recommend it to students who live within the area it serves (basically, within 75 miles of the university). The benefits were less specific knowledge than getting a better idea of what college would be like. I should also have noted that the program was tuition-free, though there was the cost of transprtation. My parents increased my allowance to cover the weekly round-trip LIRR ticket and subway tokens. Also, because I was taking the same trains every week, I got to know some other regular weekly commuters, including a guy who was studying at Julliard, who I ended up dating a few times.
- My MIT class was about 15% women and the majority of women majored in math or biology. Recent MIT classes have been almost (but not quite) 50% women. I don’t know of great statistics for overall engineering degrees to women over the years. SWE has some statistics, but they start in 2005. Also, part of the problem is including computer science in most statistics. Computer science hould be counted separately (with the exception of computer hardware engineering, which is a branch of electrical engineering). My reasoning is that software does not follow laws of physics.
- In hindsight,, I should have stayed at MIT for a masters degree and then worked for a few years before going on for a Ph.D. I would have learned better time management in the workplace and just gotten more perspective. This was not really a woman’s issue, but a personal one. The thing I was most lacking was the self-knowledge and assertiveness to ask my advisor for some things that would have made my life better. For example, it would have been useful for me to have had a standing meeting with him every couple of weeks, instead of the catch as catch can method he preferred. But here’s the thing. We make the decisions we make knowing what we know at the time, so there’s really no point in using hindsight to second guess ourselves.
- I had started grad school intending an academic career. What changed my mind there was seeing how hard younger faculty members were working, It’s not that I object to hard work per se, but I was just never that single minded. There is a part of me that regrets not having gone back to academia later on, but I did have opportunities to teach some short courses within the workplace. And, frankly, a lot of academics have only one idea in their lives and spend the rest of their careers having their grad students write papers on “m brilliant idea applied to X.” “my brilliant idea applied to Y,” and so on. (Yes, I have reviewed a lot of conference papers and journal articles over the years.)
- The single best decision I made came from the realization that almost everyone I knew who was unhappy with their job was unhappy because of people issues, not the nature of their work. I had one interview at a place I thought I would like to work at. The guy I interviewed with had no enthusiasm whatsoever for what he was doing. I suppose he could have just been having a bad day, but I knew I could not work for somebody who had all the personality of Mr. Potato Head.
- The one thing I think gets left out of the vast majority of STEM programs is how creative jobs in engineering can be. The biggest thing I think gets left out of university level engineering programs has to do with communication skills. MIT’s Mechanical Engineering department did have a writing professor review some of our lab reports. But I didn’t have to do oral presentations until taking my qualifying exams for my doctorate (and failing the first time around). Learning how to give briefings was a critical aspect of my early working years.
There’s probably something else I forgot to say, but that’s enough for now.
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