Let us know your experience as a WE Local attendee!

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WE Local Conferences successfully completed the journey in the USA this year! With 30+ organizations, 50+ breakout sessions and two signature plenary panels, and 40+ talented speakers at each conference, the WE Local season started Friday, February 8, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland, followed by four conferences in Tampa, Florida (February 15-16), St. Louis, Missouri (March 1-2), Denver, Colorado (March 15-16) and Bellevue, Washington (April 5-6). 

Have you attended one of the WE Local conferences in 2019? Please let us know your experience as a graduate student in the survey!

Please reach out to other graduate students you met in the WE Local conference encouraging them to fill out the form. Help us make your WE Local experience more beneficial in the future. let your opinion be heard!

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The Habit of Learning Deeply

Recently, I completed a course on Coursera called Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. It covers the psychology of learning and how to deepen understanding of potential difficult subjects, such as in math and sciences. The course (with a free option!) closely follows the companion book, A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science, written by one of the course’s professors, Barbara Oakley. While the book and class are targeted mainly towards students struggling in math and sciences, anyone – in or out of school – can benefit from the idea of how to deeply ingrain any material into their brains.

Since completing the book and course, I have been reflecting on the idea of how learning relates to the field of engineering. Research will stop if engineers use only the existing formulas, ideas, and methodologies. Competition will disappear, markets will stay stagnant, and potentially dangerous ideas will go undetected. This cannot happen in an area like engineering or any technical field. There is far too much at stake.

Graduate School and Learning

Graduate school presents the first major divergence in learning paths for engineers. Most engineers need at least an undergraduate degree (or comparable experience) to enter the field. This alone is a commendable scholastic achievement. Beyond a Bachelor’s lie careers and aspirations built on a foundation of going above the minimum standard.

In undergraduate education, the emphasis is on learning the fundamentals. It may be possible to memorize the subject matter two days before the exam, cramming until the wee hours with a coffee pot in hand. Some students constantly ask “is this on the test?”, often neglecting to learn anything with a “no”. These students may or may not earn the highest GPAs, but they miss the opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of this material.

Graduate school brings an entirely new shift of focus. Instead of taking 40 courses in a variety of topics, the focus often narrows to a smaller area of study and research. This is an amazing opportunity to see what it is like to truly learn. We are in an age of constant discovery on the workings of the human brain, continually unlocking new techniques for how to optimize every neuron.

The Lifelong Learning Habit

I believe people who take steps to attend graduate school, either part-time or full-time, have a new and exciting chance to establish a habit of learning that will benefit the entire engineering profession. As explored in an often recommended book The Power of Habit, a habit shapes our lives and our futures. We form habits and brain “chuncks” (the main idea in A Mind For Numbers, where random information is packaged into easily stored and accessed chunks of information) every day. This isn’t some niche or new-age idea: this is that idea that either we own our habits, or our habits own us.

Speaking from my own experience, the more I study the science of learning, habits, motivation, and general brain power, the more unlocked potential I know I have. I have not learned deeply enough in my past, but every remaining graduate course and project I have left is a time to practice and develop myself as an engineer. Hopefully, I can take those skills and desire for knowledge into every day of my career.

Just Do It!

For all those reading out there already in graduate school, I commend your efforts in improving your field. You are raising the bar for education, not only by learning old ideas but by synthesizing those “chuncks” into new research. For those on the fence about graduate school, I encourage you to find a way to make it happen. There are a countless number of ways to fund full-time study, and more and more doors are opening for part-time study (see my last blog post for tips on full-time employment and part-time study!).

Learning is something the engineering profession can never neglect if we want to improve our future. While we at GradSWE are a bit biased towards promoting graduate school, find any way you can to always learn and to learn deeply. You never know what you could discover or what doors may open along the way.

WE Local Berlin – the last WE Local for you in 2019!

WE Local Europe travels to Berlin on 15-17 May, 2019. Registration is open. Connect with like-minded peers from graduate schools and different profession! There will be hundreds of women in engineering and technology at WE Local Europe. Many of them are the only woman in their class, or their workplace. Swap strategies for advancement and expand your network.

Registration Scholarships for University Students

WE Local Europe brings together leaders from across the continent for three days of learning, networking, and fun. It’s an opportunity for university students to meet some of the leading voices in their field and connect with influential women within the engineering industry. To make this event more accessible to university students, WE Local Berlin is offering a special scholarship opportunity that will waive the entrance fees (a 50 Euro value) for those selected. Apply now to be considered for one of the 10 scholarships available this year!

Connection and inspiration

There will be no shortage of fresh content and new ideas shared at WE Local Berlin for women in all stages of their careers. See the agenda here! In between personal and professional advancement, there will be plenty of opportunity to make connections and expand your network of women in engineering. Attendees at WE Local Berlin may be inspired to pursue a unique form of engineering, take the next step in their career or make connections with new individuals. Plenary panel discussions, educational sessions, workshops and keynote addresses will leave attendees inspired and prepared to take the next step in their careers.

Networking Exhibition

Discover the future of your career after graduate school! There will be 15+ organizations represented at the WE Local networking exhibition. Explore new areas you can take your career in engineering. The WE Local Berlin networking exhibition will feature engineering and technology organizations from the local area and surrounding region. Recruiters will be present to meet qualified job candidates and conduct interviews right onsite. It will be a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to talk one-on-one with recruiters and potentially participate in interviews right on site.

WE Local Europe Keynote Speakers

Get inspired by influential women in engineering! Two Keynote Speakers and 30+ breakout session leaders will share stories of life and career to inspire you to reach your fullest potential. These sessions will give you the tools for entering a career in engineering. Attendees at Keynote sessions are sure to leave feeling inspired, invigorated and energized. WE Local Europe Keynote speakers come from varying backgrounds and experiences:

Smita Tharoor, Unconscious Bias Trainer- Smita Tharoor is a motivational keynote speaker and thought leader on Unconscious Bias and how it influences all of us.

Allyson Stewart-Allen, Advisor, Author, Speaker, Educator- Allyson is an award-winning international business consultant, whose expertise in brand internationalization is sought by leading businesses globally through her consultancy, publications, appearances, mentoring and corporate education.

Don’t miss the opportunity to attend the WE Local Berlin 2019. Register today!

Imposter Syndrome in Graduate School

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is characterized by feelings of self-doubt. This can often be described by attributing you accomplishments to being flukes or accidents, which can lead to feeling like an “imposter” and doubting your intellectual ability. This syndrome is very common in graduate school, especially for female students.

Why is imposter syndrome so common in graduate school?

Imposter syndrome so prevalent in graduate school because we are all embarking on a new journey. Between taking classes that are more challenging and learning how to conduct research, being a graduate student often means learning how to re-define the meaning of success. On top of that, colleagues that are knowledgeable constantly surround us and our classmates are working on such vastly different subjects, it is difficult to know where we stand in our career.

Personally, graduate school was the first time I left the state of Kansas, where I grew up. Moving into a new state and being starting a new program was a big challenge for me. My feelings of doubt were compounded when I failed the first big hurdle of my PhD program, the departmental exam. An exam that consisted of a paper and a presentation of my research.

Ways to deal with imposter syndrome:

Even though it is difficult, remember that you cannot compare yourself to other students in your program. When I stopped caring so much about the accomplishments of other graduate students, my ability to focus on my own weaknesses increased. For me, that was realizing I was spending too much of my time focusing on a small portion of my research project. I started focusing on spreading my time more evenly between the areas of my project. I also started to focus more on creating a story out of my data.

It is very important to have mentors that support and encourage you. When I failed my exam, my advisor and I had a long conversation on how I could improve my presentation. He told me what once I could generate good data what would demonstrate my efforts, I would pass the next round. During the three months in between the exams, my advisor and I were able to make a breakthrough in my simulations. On the presentation side, my boyfriend coached me on how to make my presentation flow more smoothly and emphasize the important breakthroughs.

As graduate students, we are expected to grow a lot in a short period of time. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are feelings that we can defeat by focusing on overcoming our own weaknesses and getting help from our networks of support.

It can be helpful to talk to your mentors and colleagues about your struggles in graduate school and see if they could offer any advise on how they overcame their feelings of imposter syndrome.

References

https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

Are you a participant in the GradSWE Mentoring Program? If so, please fill out the survey below to give us feedback on our program.

Graduate survey: https://forms.gle/LX1Zs8gUpmHNc3yw7

Professional mentor survey: https://forms.gle/vcXHWqLK8ozRg1wTA

Undergrad mentor survey: https://forms.gle/6bxMCchsrP63faCr5

 

How to choose a school?

Deciding to go to graduate school is often a tough decision. Once you’ve made a decision, the next step is to research programs that match your interest and fit your needs. While applying for undergrad, oftentimes university rankings are useful to figure out where to apply. However, for grad school each specialization often has its own rankings. The quality and reputation of the program is often tied to the faculty within your field. This sort of information is hard to find, particularly if you are looking at universities abroad. This post is about what factors you can use to evaluate graduate programs:

  1. Reputation and Quality of the program: Look at the academic credentials of the program and the research interests of the faculty. The student-faculty ratio is often a good indication of how much time and attention you receive from the faculty. For masters programs, this is a good indication of the ease of building personal relationships with the professors that many benefit you during and after grad school. However, if you want to explore options, a larger department with more faculty and course offerings might be more beneficial. The perceived reputation of the program or brand recognition is also useful to build your brand. Often, talking to alums from the school can help you assess the reputation of the program and the expected career after graduation.
  2. Admission requirements: The course specific admission criteria can be used to shortlist your schools. These include GPA, GRE scores, undergraduate coursework or essays/statement of purpose. Often, graduate schools require you to submit a statement of purpose (SOP) indicating why you want to join their school and what you expect to gain from the program (this may depend on the program to which you are applying). Some programs have short essay requirements where you are asked to describe your career goals. For me, coming from India where graduate school applications are usually based on exams testing your skills, it took time to frame my SOP. Therefore,  I suggest starting 2-3 months before the deadline so that you have enough time to refine your answers.
  3. Student Life/Location/Facilities: Consider the location of the university and evaluate whether studying there will help you meet your personal or professional goals. If you like a particular sport, look up the quality of the facilities that the university offer and factor that into your decision, particularly if you are applying for longer programs like a Ph.D. If you have the opportunity for a campus visit, this can be very useful in getting a good feel of the campus before you make the decision. If you’re applying from outside the country, this can be a little challenging. I’d talked to students studying at the university to understand what living in that city would look like.

Ultimately, you are going to graduate school to further advance your professional goals so the most important factor would be to evaluate how the school is going to help you to do that and what you can leverage (brand reputation) 10 years later in your career. All the best!

 

Life after Grad School: 7 Career Category Options

Graduate school prepares students for many types of careers, though often research academia appears to be the clearest path after graduation. Here are some common options for roles and settings once you have your degree:

Teaching academia – These positions can be either professors or lecturers and are, as the name implies, primarily focused on teaching in colleges and universities. A lecturer may be responsible solely for lecturing and administrative tasks associated with his or her classes. A professor is typically involved in more than just teaching even if it is a primary teaching position. Other responsibilities can include advising students, working on department committees, grant writing, and performing research.

Research academia – This is most familiar to grad students doing research based degrees. Upon graduation and award of a research faculty position, the individual becomes a primary investigator (PI) and continues writing grants, networking, conducting studies, interpreting results, and publishing findings. It is common to have students at any level (post-doc, graduate student, undergrad) working with the PI. Positions in research academia may also come with greater departmental responsibilities such as teaching part time and advising students. The PI has considerable freedom to pursue his or her research interests, but his or her income can be directly related to the acceptance of his or her grant applications.

Research in industry – Similar to research in academia, this position is focused on developing studies, conducting research, and publishing results. However, in industry, the company the researcher works for may provide funding, and academic departmental responsibilities such as teaching and student advising may be replaced with internal initiatives and continuous improvement projects. Typically, the company dictates or strongly influences research performed. While less freedom to choose research topics may exist as compared to academia, industry offers a stable salary, opportunity for application and commercialization, and company perks.

Government and national labs – These can be research- or industry-oriented positions. Similar to research in industry, the government or national lab may dictate research performed. Government and/or supervisors may have a vested interested in success, which can increase pressure on the employee.However, these settings have been known to provide stable jobs and good benefits. Roles could be for a scientist or in public policy.

Leader – This can be a manager, PI, or engineering lead. In these roles, the individual has stepped out of his or her individual contributor role and into the role of ensuring team success and making team members successful in reaching organizational or research goals. In academia, this is most often a manager or PI. In industry, this is commonly a product or program manager, director, president, or CEO. An engineering background and in depth knowledge of the field are required at varying degrees depending on the type of role chosen.

Design Engineering – This encompasses entrepreneurs, inventors, and engineers of many sorts (design, structural, hardware, software, etc). These people are involved in product development in some form from conceptualization to manufacturing transitions. They can be very early stage and focused on determining at a high level what mechanisms and codes are required to meet what the customer described, mid stage where we find most people with the title ‘design engineer’ focused on specifying components and verifying intended function, and late stage where they can be focused on documentation and quality output of the final product. These roles are most often found in industry directly with companies or start ups, and typically come with benefits, variable hours, vacation time, and company perks.

Production – Roles that contribute to the direct selling of a finished product for use in industry, research, or consumer settings can be considered careers in production. Examples of roles include manufacturing engineers and quality engineers. Similar to design engineering, these roles typically come with benefits, vacation time, and company perks. However, hours may be shifted outside the normal 9am – 5pm, and employees may be called in after hours in case of emergency.

 

Whichever path you choose, it’s important to remember to grow and highlight your transferable skills, and network. Transferable skills are those skills that can be applied for success in other contexts. For example, experimental design, leading a team or study, publishing, and reports are all useful and necessary post-graduation.  Additionally, you have the ability to excel in non-technical jobs focused on science communication or science policy – and more!  Networking is, in a nutshell, the process of continuously expanding your network though conversations, collaborations, and shared information.

Good luck with the rest of the semester!

 

Another Benefit of Social Media

You are already following GradSWE’s blog, since you are reading this. You probably also follow GradSWE on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You might even have your own influential social media account (check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06LYe_N_N5U if you haven’t yet!) Why stop there when there are so many more inspiring and influential social media accounts to follow?

One place to start is by looking up any role models. Another place is by finding accounts specific to your field. And of course, you can find the Society of Women Engineers on social media too (https://support.swe.org/support/solutions/articles/35000081049-finding-swe-on-social-media-)!

Here are some ideas for other great social media accounts to follow.

 

Instagram:

https://www.womenwhocode.com/blog/5-leading-ladies-in-tech-on-instagram

https://www.femmesofstem.com/blog/social-media-scientists-instagram

http://www.thescientificbeauty.com/women-stem-instagram/

https://www.antibodygenie.com/blog/the-instagram-influencerome-43-science-instagrams-you-need-to-follow/

 

Twitter:

https://www.siliconrepublic.com/people/stem-women-in-science-twitter

https://www.modis.com/en-ca/resources/job-seekers/twitter-accounts-for-engineers/

 

Other social media:

https://medium.com/sci-chic/women-in-science-you-should-be-following-on-social-media-9a31c9f997f1

http://blog.lookfar.com/blog/2017/10/05/top-female-tech-influencers/