More than an Identity Crisis

“Are you a student?”

This question always makes me pause. As a “part-time” graduate student, I don’t hold my main identity in being a student. I am first and foremost a “full-time” engineer, and school is something to tackle in my free-time. 

It leaves me with a major identity crisis of who I am in academia. As I explain my educational status, I’m quick to point out, “Oh, but I’m a non-thesis student!”, lest someone thinks too highly of my academic standing. 

“I’m only there for classes.”

“I don’t do research.” 

“I only do one or two classes a semester. It’s not like I’m a full-time student.”

I’m always quick to point out to my fellow students how I’m the poser, the faker, the imposter. I ride their coat-tails, and my degree will never be equal to a research-based Master’s. I’m 70% through a combined Master’s degree and certificate, and I fail to even see myself as a “Graduate Student.”

Do you see a trend here? If you’ve been involved with SWE for any amount of time, you may have heard of Imposter Syndrom. Previous GradSWE Blogs have covered the topic, and you can find a course on it in SWE Advance (linked here). I’ll leave it to my SWE colleagues to explain the issue in-depth, but it comes down to believing you are an imposter who will eventually be discovered as a fraud.

Like a Ph.D. student believing her research is not worthy of her peers, my own experience as a part-time Master’s student makes me believe I’m not as deserving of a degree as my fellow students.

I know that isn’t true. 

And I hope all students out there understand that graduate school is always something to be proud of doing.  These are some techniques I’ve used to fight off my own Imposter Syndrom traits.

Plugging into Campus Life

I’ll admit it: this is the hardest thing for a part-time student to do, and it’s often impossible for online students.  However, I’ve found that just by hanging around campus, I feel like more of a “student” again. Many larger schools have recreation centers that can be visited after work, even replacing a part-timer’s usual gym. Schools may offer evening activities, low-cost health clinics, counseling services, or other resources to all students. 

My first few years on campus, I rarely strayed from the path between my car and my class. It took me 3.5 years to learn my way around campus; it’s only about a 15-minute walk square! Now I’m much prouder to say I’m a student there.

At least I can finally find my way to the library.

Built a Support Network

John Donne published one of my favorite poems in 1624, “No Man is an Island”:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

My favorite line is not that classic “No man is an island”, but rather “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” On our darkest days, any student can feel like a clod of dirt, insignificant on a continent-worth of much finer ground. No matter who we are in academia, leaving before our time (like dying in the poem) makes the system that much less whole. 

Since “No man is an island,” no one can accomplish any goal alone. We all need people in our lives to support us, and we benefit from supporting others. When I connect with my classmates, I feel more like I belong. It can be hard for full-time and part-time students to meet, but we usually figured out a mutual time. Everyone is busy in their own way, so don’t shy away from trying to connect with someone with a different schedule.

Don’t Compare. Contrast. 

When I make the negative comments from the opening of this post, it’s because I’m comparing myself to people with different goals than myself. I’m not in a career track that requires a research background. 

Research-heavy students often end up in academia or research jobs, or they at least may aspire for that path.  While it is generalizing, the average engineer in a fabrication shop, automotive plant, factory, etc. doesn’t necessarily need to have a research background. And that is okay. 

Rather than compare, contrast. What can a non-thesis student learn from a thesis student? A non-researcher from someone in love with their lab? Share your story and learn the stories of others. 

Parting Words

When I started writing this post, I was writing about what I thought was an “identity crisis.” I felt I was just disconnected in a system that assumes a full-time commitment. I didn’t realize my “identity crisis” was actually hidden imposter syndrome.

If you start hearing your mind tell you the same things, you aren’t alone. No matter where we may be on our journey, from certificate seeker to post-doc, we are all worthy of being “Graduate Students.”

May your learnings be infinite, your research plentiful, and your degrees someday be complete!


What’s a SWE Resume?

If you’ve taken a look at the SWE Grad Leadership application, you may have noticed that among the optional supporting documents is the SWE resume. What’s a SWE resume, you may be asking. How does it differ from the traditional professional resume and when might I need one?

Much like a professional resume, a SWE resume is a document that outlines your qualifications and experience. But instead of highlighting your achievements in the pursuit of a job, a SWE resume draws attention to your SWE involvement for the purpose of strengthening your case in pursuit of a leadership position or award within SWE. These documents are often only about 2 pages and should list relevant SWE involvement.

There are two major approaches you can take when preparing a SWE resume: position based and competency based.

Position Based

You’re probably already familiar with this framework! In this resume format, you would list your experiences and relevant details. This is a great way to show off the diversity of your efforts and because of the straightforward organization, it is easy to add new entries as you progress through the organization.

Competency Based

Maybe you have many experiences but want to tie them together into a cohesive narrative. A competency based resume model may be for you! In this format, you would focus on specific areas of competency (such as Communication/People, Research, Technical, Teaching, Financial, Organization, etc.) and highlight the positions and activities that support your competency in that area. After reading your resume, not only will people know about your SWE involvement, but they will know how your experiences have shaped your abilities in certain areas. The official SWE Leadership Competency Model prioritizes four main areas: Leadership Abilities, Communication, Business Knowledge & Management, and Self Management. There is an assortment of resources and tools at that link to help you reflect upon your proficiency in these areas.

If you are nominated for a SWE award or are applying for a SWE leadership position, you may be asked to attach a SWE resume- so go ahead and try drafting a SWE resume today so you can ask mentors or peers to take a look and offer recommendations!

Applications for the SWE Grad Leadership Team close on April 1! Check out our previous blog post for more information.




Tips for Men on how to be Allies to Women in Engineering

If you are interested in connecting with GradSWE’s Diversity & Inclusion team and our initiatives please contact Diversity & Inclusion Liaison Andrea Haverkamp at We look forward to meeting you!

Engineering is a male dominated field. There’s really no dispute about that. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 15.9% of employed engineering and architectural professionals are women. SWE and GradSWE are open to people of all genders – this includes men. Men, being in the majority, can play arguably an extremely important role in making engineering a discipline which is inclusive, welcoming, and celebrating of women and other underrepresented genders. Today, nearly 50% of women in engineering will experience sexual harassment by male peers – it will take male allies to bring this number to 0%.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, published by Peggy McIntosh in 1989, was written to assist white individuals to identify the ways in which being white gives them often invisible advantages in many areas of their daily life. As a white person, reading this piece was deeply influential in shaping my own ever-evolving understanding of my own power, privilege, and role in society. Unpacking privilege can be a critical first step in fostering active allyship.

In the decades that have followed there have been writings on other forms of privilege such as heterosexual privilege, able-bodied privilege, and male privilege which is the subject of this article. The North American Students of Cooperation put together a resource titled the “Male Privilege Checklist” which outlines some invisible ways that men can be privileged in their daily and gives tips for allyship. There are 27 in this resource – it is absolutely worth a read and a download! We seek to adapt this resource for our male peers inside and outside of SWE:

What are some of the daily examples of male privilege that might be experienced in engineering/?

  • The odds of being hired for a job, when competing against non-male identified applicants, are probably skewed in my favor.
  • If I fail in my job or career, I can feel certain this won’t be seen as an indicator of my entire gender’s capabilities.
  • The odds of me encountering sexual harassment on the job are very low.
  • If I have children and pursue a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home with them.
  • I can be somewhat sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will face another male. The higher up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
  • My ability to make important decisions and my professional capability in general will not be questioned regardless of what time of the month it is.
  • The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I may choose to have children sometime soon.
  • I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

Being aware that these are true for men in engineering, who make up almost 86% of working professionals, is an important concept for male allies of women in engineering to acknowledge as they progress through graduate education and prepare for the workforce whether they are entering academia or industry.

A critique of such a “privilege checklist” can be summed up as, “now what?” What can be done? Do we just acknowledge these privileges and then move on? The North American Students of Cooperation also created an informative and useful resource called the “Allyship Packet” which discusses how folks of dominant identities can all be allies as white people, men, normative-gender individuals, Christian individuals, and straight-identified people. This is an amazing read for all, even other women in engineering, since we all will need to act as allies to each other in various circumstances. We all have many identities in our lives. Consider checking this out and downloading it as well – it will be a great resource as we strive to be inclusive and welcoming in engineering!

As a male ally, I can…

  • Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of the issues of gender oppression.
    • This can include being aware of male privilege, and issues facing women in engineering.
  • Be present at meetings to make sure male privilege and gender oppression are part of the discussion.
    • If women are being spoken over, questioned in their ability, having projects taken away from them, or experience sexual harassment, I make it a part of professional dialogue.
  • Be willing and able to call other men out on their actions, words, and issues.
    • It is important to realize that being an ally includes conversations that are man-to-man.
  • Raise issues about gender oppression over and over, both in public and in private.
    • I am becoming an advocate and reading resources / news from SWE and GradSWE!
  • Accept and encourage leadership from non-male identified people.
    • When leadership positions or projects become available, consider recommending your women (and other non-male) colleagues for the position.
  • Understand that non-male identified people often have valid experiences that cause them to feel distrustful of, wary of, or angry at men. I do not take it as a personal attack. Nor do I try to make them feel guilty for feeling these things about men. I remember that “its not all about me.”
    • None of this is an attack, and you are not a bad person by default. This is just daily life that many women want to bring awareness to and discuss.
  • Continually educate myself and others about gender oppression.
    • Being an ally – regardless of the group – is a lifelong process. It requires all of us to be dedicated. This includes male allyship in engineering!
  • Model positive behavior for my friends and other men by setting an example.
    • Leading by example is how I engage in healthy and exemplary masculinity.

We hope this helps and can serve as a resource for others. We are all in this – together!

We are putting together an online virtual reading and video watching club – please consider joining! In early February we are discussing intersectional feminism and kyriarchy. Contact Diversity & Inclusion Liaison Andrea Haverkamp at for this and other involvement in the Diversity & Inclusion Team in GradSWE We look forward to meeting you!


Consider Contributing to WE19 in November!

If you have attended a SWE annual conference, hopefully, you have experienced the quality and diversity of sessions offered by the SWE community. Do you have experience or expertise that you want to share with your fellow women engineers? Consider getting more involved with this year’s SWE annual conference, WE19, by presenting a lecture, workshop, panel, or lightning talk. Your involvement is crucial to the success of WE19!

The deadline for submissions is March 18, 2019, so there is plenty of time to develop your own idea or connect and work with other SWE members to develop a session together. GradSWE will also be hosting an idea-sharing/brain-storming conference call next month for anyone that has an idea for a session or would like to get more involved. More details to come!

The WE19 Call For Participation has helpful information on what to consider as you develop your session and information on how your proposed session is evaluated (Title, Description, Learning Outcomes, and Speaker Qualifications).

Please contact with any questions or suggestions!

Recap: SWE Annual Conference-WE18

Another annual conference is in the books for the Society of Women Engineers where more than 14,000 women engineers gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center last month.

Our graduate community participates in the conference in a variety of ways including hosting professional development sessions, competing in research presentations, exploring the career fair, and networking at the Graduate Member Meeting and Graduate Student Reception.

Graduate Poster & Rapid Fire Competition:

Twenty graduate students were selected from those that submitted abstracts for the Graduate Poster & Rapid Fire Competition. Ten students competed in each category (poster or rapid fire) where they were evaluated on their research and presentation skills. Congratulations to the following award recipients:

Graduate Poster Competition Results
(1st) Samantha Zellner
Corrosion Measurement of Silicon Carbide
University of North Texas

(2nd) Sarah Robb
Is faster FDA review time for cardiovascular devices correlated with adverse health outcomes, as evidenced by increased recalls?
Carnegie Mellon University

(3rd) Rachel Tenney
Production of Nitrogen- and Phosphorus-Rich Crystals from Municipal Wastewater for Sustainable Nutrient Recovery
University of Minnesota

Graduate Rapid Fire Competition Results
(1st) Jennifer DiStefano
Utilizing 2D Materials in Core-shell Nanocomposites
Northwestern University

(2nd) Caymen Novak
Compressive Stimulus Enhances Ovarian Cancer Proliferation, Invasion, and Mechanotransduction in a Novel 3D Compression Bioreactor
University of Michigan

(3rd) Kritika Iyer
Non-Invasive Diagnostics of Coronary Artery Disease Using Machine Learning and Computational Fluid Dynamics
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Graduate Member Meeting:

Our member meeting is open to all graduates and serves to update our members on current GradSWE initiatives and what they can do to increase graduate student involvement in SWE at their university. The meeting slides contain pertinent links and tips for developing a GradSWE group.

Graduate Student Reception (Sponsored by Praxair and Autodesk):

With over 60 attendees, the Graduate Student Reception continues to grow and is an opportunity for networking and idea sharing among peers and the sponsors. We would like to once again thank Autodesk and Praxair for their support of the SWE graduate community! 20181019_172539

Join our team as Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-E):

Do you want to get involved in GradSWE at the Society level? The application is now open for the Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-Elect) position.

This position carries a two-year term (one year as coordinator-elect and one year as coordinator) filled by a SWE graduate student or recent Ph.D./M.S. graduate. The time commitment is usually 2-3 hours/week and is closer to 7-10 hours/week in the weeks before the annual conference. All meetings are through conference calls, except for the required annual conference attendance for both WE19 and WE20.

Deadline for applications is Monday, December 31, 2018 11:59 pm CDT (Midnight).
All applications will then be reviewed and applicants will be contacted in January.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at

Conferences: Why Bother?

I attended the SWE annual conference last week and wanted to share a few insights about the benefits of attending conferences.

Conferences are great ways to connect with others in your field. As a graduate student, you most likely have attended a conference and made a poster presentation or an oral presentation of your research. If you haven’t, I definitely recommend talking with your research advisor about submitting abstracts in an effort to be selected to present at a conference. This gives you an opportunity to not only build your CV but to practice concisely communicating your research to others, to network with others in your field which may open up future research collaboration opportunities or employment, and to learn current, in-progress research that may be relevant to your research.

SWE offers two types of conferences: the annual international “WE” conference held each year in early fall (over 14,000 attendees this year!)  and the “WE Local” conferences held throughout the year around the United States, India and Europe. One of the main advantages of these conferences is the variety of events and sessions offered.  Since SWE includes all engineering and science disciplines, the conferences are technically neutral, or should I say “all-inclusive”. Most of the sessions apply to all attendees and center around career success, professional development and work-life balance. There are presentations grouped under eleven different tracks (below) as well as a career fair with over 350 exhibitors (including universities and organizations)

Other elements of Conference include:

*keynote speakers*hospitality suites*K-12 outreach*local tours*poster competition*tech talks*

Pictures from WE18 Conference can be seen here.

As a member of leadership, conference was a great opportunity to meet in-person other members of leadership with whom I collaborate. I also connected with speakers after their talk, providing a way to get advice or more information in the future on a topic that is of interest and relevant to me.

You have a near-term opportunity to participate in an upcoming WE Local Conference and earning a $250 stipend if you make it as a finalist in the WE Local Collegiate Competition. Submit your abstract before the deadline of Friday, November 2, 2018


Check out the Hospitality Suites at WE18!

One of the most exciting events at the annual SWE conferences is the Hospitality Suites. This event consists of a series of rooms in the conference center featuring numerous companies. Each suite will give you insight into the company culture as several employees will be available for casual networking.

If you are looking for a job or internship, be sure to check out the companies you’d like to target for applications – networking opportunities can lead to interviews, and will certainly give you more information about what the company values and how the company operates.

Even if you’re not currently looking for a position, visiting the hospitality suites can still help you build your network and stretch your networking skills!

Some tips to keep in mind while milling through the hospitality suites:

  1. Each suite will typically provide some appetizers and potentially alcoholic beverages. If you decide to drink any alcohol offered, be responsible. Remember that you have had a long and exhausting day at conference so you may start to feel tipsy sooner than usual!
  2. Not sure which companies to look at? Attend the hospitality suites with friends! Get a broad overview of different company cultures, regardless of specific field.
  3. Talk to a variety of people at a number of different suites – you can get new ideas about jobs that you might be interested in!
  4. Bring business cards! These are an amazing networking tool – by exchanging business cards, you can continue your networking connections after conference.



If you are attending WE18 in Minneapolis, the hospitality suites will be Thursday, October 18th, from 8:00-10:00PM. Look for the Hospitality Suites in the conference app or online planner for a list of hosting companies!