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Women in STEM Part Two: ‘Dare to be Ambitious’
What words would women in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEM-M) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia give to the next generation of aspiring scientists? Our celebration of Women's History Month continues in part two of our series highlighting CHOP women in STEM-M fields nominated by their respective Centers of Emphasis. You're invited to read the advice and anecdotes these researchers shared, from acknowledging the support of strong mentors to viewing challenges as a chance for growth. (And if you haven't already, be sure to check out part one of this series for more stories and inspiration!)
As a research engineer working alongside clinical care providers at CHOP, I am inspired to help solve challenges in patient care that providers face every day. The vibrant, collaborative research environment ensures that technology development does not happen in a vacuum and directly addresses provider and patient needs. In particular, with the high volume of complex cases that CHOP sees every day, my research focus and passion for neurocritical care and resuscitation science innovation feels pressing. It's not hard to visualize how innovation could make a measurable impact for patients.
Being a woman in science has taken a lot of grit, persistence, and the ability to let unwarranted comments roll off. My advice is to dare to be ambitious and outspoken, and be confident that your knowledge and experience are valuable. Seek out mentors who have a culture of respect and who encourage your ambitions. Seek out and support women who have come before you, and encourage women who are following in your footsteps.
If you are a woman who wants to work in a STEM field, surround yourself with strong mentors who emulate what you want for yourself, both personally and professionally. Be sure to surround yourself with a positive and supportive network — when those around you think you can succeed, you are more likely to agree. Perseverance, determination, and flexibility are important when you envision your goals, as we are not static beings. Lastly, know your worth and limits.
As young people begin their science careers, I hope they will recognize it is a journey. The road will be smooth at times, and other times there will be obstacles. There will be moments when it will seem as if you are climbing toward an unreachable peak. Do not give up. Along the way you will have to choose paths and should view these decisions as opportunities. Surround yourself with supportive mentors and friends as companions along the way. Celebrate when you achieve milestones, and enjoy the view at each step of your amazing journey.
The best job I can imagine is one in which I get to work on interesting problems with people I feel connected to. Working in medicine and health services research has opened a world of opportunities to do both of those things. When my 2-year-old daughter picks up her stuffed purple hippo, runs to the door, and says, "I go to work!" with a grin on her face, I hope that she's mimicking what she sees her mom do — leave for work each day with a smile, knowing that I have a fun day ahead of me.
As an international student from China, I am the first person in the family who had the chance to study abroad and will become the first to complete doctorate training. My research in the Mechanistic Molecular Immunology Lab elucidates novel protein/protein interactions to develop and optimize a universal ligand exchange platform to screen and select antigenic peptide epitopes and identify and monitor antigen-specific T cells.
I understand how difficult it can be for women to pursue a career in STEM fields because we might not see immediate good results or expected outcomes, even when we try hard. My advice is to never give up. When you experience failure, confusion, and fear, you are learning new things and acquiring skills by stepping outside your comfort zone — you are growing and improving. Long-term efforts will always allow you to win in the marathon of life. Persistence and diligence bring luck!