I am committed to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers, which should represent society at large in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. 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.
- 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 a true sense of what things are really like.
- There are many more people like you than you realize. For example,
how many women are there in robotics? A surprisingly large number,
yet not nearly enough. The 2015 ICRA
Conference, attended by over 3000 (record at the time), was run
entirely by women; here is the
of the organizers. There are no good excuses for not finding role
models, mentors, hires, and leaders.
- Everything you see today is just what is going on today, it will 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, do it better.
- Volunteer your time so you can learn the 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 references, too.
- Don't expect to be paid if you have no relevant 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, for example from code.org or Outreachy (which provies scholarships for learners from underrepresented groups) or Summer of Code. If you are interested in robotics, learn 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 about half of the world and deserve equal pay and an equal place at every table. Behave accordingly. Now apply that to any underrepresented group; inclusiveness is up to each of us individually, as that is how we can change organizations and cultures for the better.
- You want to make a positive impact on the world and work on truly impactful problems? The first step is to get out of your house, campus, lab, and neighborhood, and find an organization that tries to do that: look for a non-profit therapy/resource center, hospital, rehab center, soup kitchen, etc., whatever compells you. Volunteer your time there freely (no strings) to learn what the real problems are; don't presume to know, and don't resume that you can just jump in and help. After you volunteer and see what the real challenges are, find a way to use your best skills (social and technical) to help in that context. It can be as simple as setting up a web page for the organization, helping people build resumes, building simple devices that removce small annoyances, and so on. Look for where the need is greatest, where people truly need the most help to thrive, and innovate there.