The phrase “STEM career” is a vague term that actually represents an exciting array of jobs. For STEM month, we at Girl Scouts of Central Maryland would like to introduce you to several women who work in STEM fields. They will tell you in their own words why STEM careers are the best!
What do you do?
I’m helping to guide the science of a start-up company focussed on improving the bottom line of non-profits and other organizations sensitive to responses to email/direct mail/social media campaigns.
How did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
I worked for many years in bioinformatics, first as a researcher, then as an executive at the National Institutes of Health. That is really exciting work, and I’d like to go back to it. My current work in business analytics was an opportunity too good to pass up, since this is an area that is so important for all of usŠ our company helps to make sure that you don’t get a lot of spam mail, but that you still hear from the organizations you care about.
How did you end up in this field?
I wound up in bioinformatics in 1998 when I saw a job posting in the Washington Post for the little company “Celera Genomics”, who was looking for computer scientists and mathematicians to help sequence the human genome. And we did it! It was an exciting experience, and one that will be hard to top, but things are moving so fast that there are always exciting new opportunities.
What is a typical day like at your job?
I usually spend a couple of hours on the phone each day, both taking care of details for the products we deliver to clients, and also brainstorming with my colleagues about new ideas we want to start working on. A couple of hours a week I might help with describing our product to current or prospective customers, and the rest of the time, I’m in front of the computer, or working on a sketch-pad, trying to to bring new algorithms/ideas into our products.
What is the best part of your job?
Working with a great group of colleagues, and people who love working on fun problems together.
What is the most surprising thing that you have discovered about your field?
How valuable networking is, and how great opportunities appear in subtle ways.
What did you have to learn in order to do what you do?
I was trained in math, with some CS and a little programming, and then also a broad background in the sciences – biology, chemistry, physics – enough to understand the ideas that are described in papers in computational biology today. To be good at my current job, I have to be really on top of various scripting languages, and handy at linux system administration. I have also learned to be very attuned to the scientific literature, so that we stay up to date with the cutting edge.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls about careers in STEM?
Embrace the thing you loveŠ and don’t forget to think about SCIENCE. I was pretty good at math, but that didn’t inspire me the way it inspires someŠ which is sort of awkward for a math Ph.DŠ But what did inspire me was the science I learned about while working in bioinformatics. I hadn’t learned about the excitement of scientific inquiries while studying math and CS, but the science I’ve learned since. and have been able to contribute to, has been absolutely fascinating.
What is something girls should know about STEM?
Girls and boys should both know the same things about STEM – if you are inspired by it, it can make your work something very close to play. Also, remember to seek advice and help from colleagues and mentors. Some might be like you, but look also for those who are really unlike you, because they might give the most valuable insights.
Were you a Girl Scout?
I was a Girl Scout in about 1970.