Women In Science and Engineering celebrates 25th anniversary conference
Women taking part in the 25th anniversary conference of Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) in Newfoundland and Labrador generally agreed there are plenty of women going into the professional fields these days, with many former barriers stripped away.
(From left) Leslie Gratten, president, Leslie Grattan and Associates; Sherrie Myers, co-operative education, MUN; Carol Ann Thomas, technical consultant, Freedman; and Dawn Marshall, assistant professor, MUN; were part of a panel Wednesday at the Women in Science and Engineering Newfoundland and Labrador conference at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Instead, much of the comments and advice offered to the audience in a panel session at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s Wednesday afternoon focused on finding the way to success in a chosen career — achieving personal satisfaction with one’s professional life.
A four-woman panel was asked to provide some tips, to offer what they might say to their 20-year-old selves about their working lives.
Leslie Grattan, a marine biologist and president of Leslie Grattan and Associates, kicked things off. She promoted taking risks and finding your own way, noting she ignored advice from teachers and guidance councillors when she dove into marine biology at the University of Guelph.
Grattan was drawn to Newfoundland and Labrador by the marine science facility at Logy Bay and eventually took to being a translator of sorts — helping people unfamiliar with her area of expertise learn more about the ocean, particularly as it relates to offshore oil and gas projects.
“This was affecting them ... but they didn’t have good information,” she said of deciding to take on a consultant’s role.
“For the company I’m currently working for, I’m a SME,” she said with a laugh, drawing it out as “Smee.” She explained it stands for subject matter expert.
Sherrie Myers is a mechanical engineer, working as a career counselor in co-operative education at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). She said she was in a job where she could spend days seeing more of a computer screen than other people and quickly realized it was not for her.
She found her way to a position as an councilor for co-op education in engineering at the University of British Columbia and continued from there.
Her advice? “Don’t be so panicked about change, or challenges, or obstacles that you’re faced with,” she told the WISE gathering. “You’ll struggle with it at first. Take a breath. Maybe 10.”
Like Grattan, she promoted life-long learning, but also finding meaning in your chosen career, rather than just the right paycheque.
For Carol Ann Thomas, work as an electrical engineer transitioned to work in intellectual property, as a consultant with Freedman.
She went into engineering because she saw the high-level training as a step to job security. She went to work in telecommunications, only to find herself laid off from a position at Nortel.
“Be ready to have disappointments. And don’t think it’s the end of the world, because it’s not,” she said.
Dawn Marshall is a wildlife genetics researcher and assistant professor at MUN.
“Up until about 15, I had never even thought about science as a career,” she said, dispelling the image of women committing to a certain career path in their earliest years.
Marshall said her interest in science really began in high school, but only flourished as she moved into university and learned more about DNA.
She said she was discouraged by a professor when she tried to move, after her first year of studies, into biochemistry. She believed gender bias played a role.
“I think that’s changed now and that’s great,” she said, after explaining she started in biology instead, only to later tackle a double major.
She began work in Vancouver, then returned to Newfoundland and worked her way through multiple contracts with the university.
“Avail yourself of mentors,” she said, acknowledging her own. “But in the end, make your own decisions.”
The panel as a whole recommended women challenging themselves in their careers and leaving jobs if they feel unsatisfied.