I am committed to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers, which should represent society at large in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. I am also passionate about sharing my professional and personal experiences and providing constructive advice to women and girls. We should not all have to fight the same fights over and over again.
How good is this advice? I was honored to receive the 2009 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), USC Provost's Mentoring Award, the Mellon Mentoring Award, and was named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Technology and one of the top 25 Women in Robotics. To actively promote diversity in engineering education and research, I have chaired the USC Viterbi School of Engineering branch of the USC Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Program, I regularly serve as an CRA-W DREU mentor, lead the Viterbi K-12 STEM
VAST Program, and contribute to mentoring resources for girls and women.
I enjoy sharing what I have learned through all those experiences in order to help others to succeed. Here are some mentoring resources and answers to questions I am often asked.
- Realize that most of what you read, watch, and hear is full of stereotypes. Do your own research, ideally by talking with people who are involved in STEM, and visit real work places (including research labs!), so you get the sense of what things are really like.
- Realize that everything you see today is just what is going on today, but it will all change and grow and be developed in new directions and ways based on people who work in the field. So if you work in the field, you get to shape and change it. Don't turn away from something because you think it should be done differently; instead get involved and change it, do it your way.
- Volunteer your time so you can learn the exciting new developments in the field(s) you are interested in, not because you will necessarily go on and do research in the future, but because you will learn so much more about the real challenges of any field and about what is really exciting than you could glean in a class, by reading, or from talking to people. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and earn reference letters, too.
- Don't expect to be paid if you have no experience; look for scholarships and other ways of supporting your time. Building your future takes an investment of time. Approach every experience by asking "How can I help? Here is what I can do for you." rather than "What can you do for me?" You will get many more opportunities, gain more skills, and make more friends that way.
- No matter what you want to do and be, learn to program. Programming is behind almost everything in the 21st century. If you can program, you have a skill to contribute to any organization (including any research lab). If you are committed, you can learn to program for free on the web; see code.org as a starting point, then explore ROS, whose open-source philosophy and world-wide developer community provides training for remote developers and proactively embraces diversity.
- Whatever your gender, remember that women make up half of the world and deserve equal pay and an equal place at every table. Behave accordingly.