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Building a Tradition: 2nd Annual GW Women in STEM Symposium

Eve Boyle
Ph.D. Candidate in Hominid Paleobiology
(Expected 2019)

Following in the footsteps of the First Annual GW Women in STEM Symposium, this year’s installment was an even greater success. While last year’s symposium was a skills-building event planned by GW graduate students (like myself), faculty, and staff, this year’s symposium was spearheaded and largely funded by the appropriately named undergraduate student group, GW Women in STEM. With additional funding and support provided by the GW Center for Career Services, the Office of Alumni Relations, and the W. Scott Amey Career Services Center, the second annual GW Women in STEM Symposium took place November 5, 2016, in the Science and Engineering Hall.

The key to this year’s success was rooted in the participation of a diverse, exceptional group of women who work in the DC area. The day began with keynote speaker Dr. Julie McEnery, the Fermi Project Scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who reflected on her unique career path and provided some tips for women to be successful in STEM careers. One point that particularly resonated with me was Dr. McEnery’s suggestion for women to be flexible, and to take chances on the variety of career opportunities that may come our way. This is crucial to building a repertoire of diverse experiences and skills.

One point that particularly resonated with me was Dr. McEnery’s suggestion for women to be flexible, and to take chances on the variety of career opportunities that may come our way

We then heard from career coach Kelsey Johnson, who discussed how we can best use our personality types—determined by Holland Codes— to our advantage in our chosen fields and careers. Whether you are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, or conventional (RIASEC), it is essential to know yourself and what you excel at, in order to find and secure a fulfilling profession. During lunch, attendees were able to network with industry representatives, GW faculty, and GW alumna, with whom they shared a RIASEC personality type.

The conversations and connections made during this lunch were useful for the students to help them figure out questions to ask during the next part of the event, the ‘Ask the Professionals’ Panel. The nine women on the panel spanned all career stages and represented many STEM fields including anthropology, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, information technology, medicine, and the health sciences. After each panelist briefly described a typical day in their life, attendees asked questions such as “What do you do to feel powerful in the workplace?” and “Is it better to follow your passion or to have a more practical job?”.

Following insightful responses from the panel, we all broke into small groups to discuss lessons learned from the day. After each group reflected on what they learned, Dr. Meghan Coakley, the Project Manager for the National Institutes of Health 3D Print Exchange, facilitated a discussion to wrap up the symposium. Dr. Coakley’s takeaways reminded us of the major themes of the day: 1) career path is an evolution, 2) skills are translatable, 3) we should embrace stereotypes and then defy them, 4) whether being a woman affects your career can vary, 5) find a network of people that will support and inspire you, and lastly, 6) be confident!

Though the symposium was geared towards undergraduates, it was clear that all of the programming was applicable to any woman in the room, no matter what stage of her career she was at. I certainly learned things that I will carry with me throughout graduate school, and through whatever lies for me beyond. Looking forward, I know that the third annual GW Women in STEM Symposium will not be an event to be missed!

Photo info: The author (right) with her mentor Dr. Kirsten Brown, one of the symposium’s panelists, and an assistant professor and director of gross anatomy in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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