Updated: Feb 2, 2020
1. I had to learn how to navigate the biases.
Currently, many implicit biases exist about women’s abilities in technical or scientific fields. We can observe them in ourselves sometimes as well. Often when we hear the words “doctor” or “engineer” we picture a man.
In several cases through engineering school, guys would not approach me until they knew my abilities. I’ve had guys refuse to be my lab partner or lie about any study groups in attempts to keep me out. While this can feel very alienating, I learned that not everybody was like this. I struggled to find people I knew wished for my success, but eventually I did. I was able to move past those who constantly expected me to constantly “prove” myself by having the confidence in myself since I knew my work would always speak for itself.
2. I had to stop comparing myself to others for my own mental health.
When you attend a university that grades you based on the class average how can you not compare yourself to others? Your grade is quite literally determined by how you ranked compared to the class. Many times I questioned whether I was even cut out for this field after coming home with “below average” scores or at best merely “average”. It can be absolutely debilitating to feel like no matter what you do or how hard you study you can’t break through.
It wasn’t until I stopped focusing on my rank compared to others that I began to actually score above average. I decided to begin loving myself and giving my body the rest it was begging for. I overworked myself to the point of being so burned out that studying had almost no effect. Once I began to prioritize an 8-hour sleep, consistent eating, and scheduled study periods, my productivity sky-rocketed.
3. No matter how hard it got, I realized my love for the field would never allow me to give up.
There were many times when I was at my lowest that I daydreamed about changing majors.
However, I would also sit back and think “what else could I do and happily dedicate my life to?” There was nothing else that would ever come to mind, because I’ve always known that engineering is what I love. If you are working toward your greatest passion, no matter how hard it gets, your love for it will be able to get you through it. Even when it feels like nothing is going right.
I am grateful to myself for sticking through it. I am now living the life 7-year-old me could only dream of.
4. Humility and a strong work ethic can take you very far.
One of the things I hear the most from the students I speak to and know first-hand from personal experience is how hard it can be to build self-confidence. Often, peers can be very vocal about their multiple extra-curricular activities, internship offers, and engineering related semester jobs. This can cause our self-esteem to take a hit when we struggle to even get a call-back for an interview or at the very least a response at all.
It is very difficult to not let it get to you, but the best thing to do is to take your future into your own hands and roll with it. My first Summer at UCLA I received absolutely no attention from anyone. No internship offers (not even an interview), no REU offer, not even a research opportunity at my own school. My confidence was at an all-time low. I decided to take my future into my own hands and worked on bettering my marketable skills and worked on a personal project through the Summer. As a result of this project I landed a research assistant position for the following quarter and as a result of that position I was able to take my pick from internship offers.
Recently, I have been taking part in interviewing internship candidates. My group and I have not necessarily focused on GPA or perfection by any means. Teamwork is ultimately one of the most important skills in engineering so no matter how perfect a candidate seems, their personality, humility, and work ethic will take them farther than a 4.0 and 4 internships under their belt.
5. It’s not realistic to expect to be able to do it alone.
There is absolutely no way I would have been able to get where I am had I done it alone. Many different programs, mentors, student study group members, and friends/ family have contributed to where I am today. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. There were multiple classes I would not have passed if it wasn’t for my study groups and I’m sure those in the study groups feel the same way. Engineering school is hard for everybody, even if some are better at hiding how hard it is than others.
Perhaps the competitive nature of some universities is to blame for students feeling the need to go at it alone. Now, as a full-time engineer, it has become so much more apparent how unrealistic it is to try to do just that. At my job, there is always someone willing to help or mentor me and always someone ready to spend a few minutes answering any questions. It benefits the group to help each other. The collaborative environment I am currently in is one of my favorite aspects of Engineering.