Ashley Schloss is the Tech Coalition Manager at Reboot Representation, an organization and coalition of leading tech companies dedicated to decreasing disparities for women in color in technology. Ashley earned her PhD from the Yale School of Medicine, where she worked in the Regan Lab studying protein-protein interactions.
In today’s world, knowledge in STEM prepares you for just about any job. But, if you are entering a STEM field where you often find yourself as the only one in a room– the only woman, only person of color, only person from your school – there are some skills that you need. These skills enable you to carve a space and shift a system that was made by those who might not have seen you coming.
Focus on the three C’s: community, communication, and confidence.
Community: There are likely other people on campus or in other departments who are also the only or one of a few. Look for affinity groups where you can find community and assistance. Talk to people – you might find shared experiences, tips on overcoming loneliness, and more.
Communication: Self-advocate: email your professor with that nagging question, ask your TA to grab a coffee, connect with that one person who graduated a couple years ago on LinkedIn, sign up to give a presentation. Networking is daunting, but it is important. The more people who know about your work, your goals, and your passions, the easier it is for them to support you and amplify your success.
Confidence: This is an uncomfortable one, but confidence comes from practice. If you are nervous about a presentation, application, interview, etc., practice with any and everyone who has the time. Allow people to give you feedback, implement the feedback, and practice more. Sounds boring, but it works. My biggest failures came from not seeking feedback and my biggest wins came from practice.
You got this! I believe in you.
Jenette Creso grew up in Washington and now resides in Pierson College at Yale. She is working on her PhD, using engineered heart tissue to model and evaluate the hereditary genetic mutations that cause heart disease. She is also an Executive Board Member for the Yale Society of Women Engineers.
Fear of starting something new can be a tall barrier when it comes to finding the right career path. It’s not a secret that the learning curves in STEM are steep; changing fields can mean learning a whole new foundation of vocabulary and techniques. This is particularly challenging in an academic environment, where it can feel like everyone else in the field is miles ahead of you. I know firsthand how intimidating this can be; I changed from pre-med to chemical engineering in undergrad, before changing again to biomedical engineering in graduate school.
The confidence to change trajectory is essential for finding the right fit. Settling for a research project, a thesis topic, or a degree that is just “good enough” is never going to bring you a passionate or fulfilling career. The time you spent doing something else is never a waste, but rather it is what led you to a new career that is an even better fit.
So, my advice is to gain as much exposure as you can along your journey. Take a different class from your friends, sign up for more events, and talk to people in various fields to gain new perspectives. Most importantly, don’t let the fear of change keep you from starting on a better path for yourself.