Monthly Archives: October 2013

Women In SAMPE Panel: Ask for What You Want

I was on a panel discussion for the SAMPE conference that started today (Oct 22)  in Wichita.  It was a fine day for me.  The panel discussion went pretty well.  I actually enjoyed myself.  It’s not every day I get to sit on a dais.  Everybody went in front of the crowd to talk about their story – how they got to where they were.  That was how the first woman did it and we all followed her lead.

My story is different from most, but not all that different really.  I had was an interesting realization at lunch that we had all been that ‘girl who liked math’.   Anyway, if I had to sum up how these women made their careers happen, the common theme was figure out what you want and what you have to do to get it.  Do what you need to do and ask other people for their help when you need it.  Ask for part-time work when you have your baby.  Ask to be a project manager and work on a Ph.D.   Let people know about the kinds of jobs you’d be interested in.

There was some other good advice about keeping your resume polished, do your homework, get the skills you need, etc.  I was never very good at that stuff myself.  I just looked for opportunities and worked hard when I got them.

Working hard was an unstated but understood value.  Nobody was in that room who hadn’t worked hard to become an engineer and get to be in that audience.  When we talked about kids and about sacrifices, I talked about how it was worth it to me to get the Ph.D., but it was a sacrifice.  Financially, no, it was not worth it to me.  I got my Ph.D. in 2010.  There haven’t been any merit raises since 2008.

I talked about what I had discovered looking into pay and gender at NIAR.  That women under 40 made basically the same money as men under 40.  Women over 50 are paid, on average, substantially lower than men over 50.  The difference is statistically significant and it’s a large amount.  But my sample size of women engineers over 50 at NIAR is low enough that the results could be due to other considerations.  My own opinion is that, for women over 50, the lower average pay reflects the gender discrimination that was so prevalent when we were starting our careers.  It may also reflect time taken out of a career to take care of children.

Between our panel discussion and lunch, we had the Keynote speaker.  He was a retired general.  I never heard such a negative keynote talk.  The funding for science is down and the funding for materials science is even worse.  He had lots of data and comparisons.  Other countries, our own past, the $ going into research, the students graduating with STEM degrees.  All of news was down relative to where we used to be and relative to other countries.

At lunch I asked about sexual harassment, but nobody in that crowd felt they had experienced anything worth mentioning.  I don’t know, perhaps it was not n appropriate place to bring up the subject.  Some may not feel like talking about it to relative strangers.

After lunch, I toured the many booths for a few hours.  Loads of awesome swag.  It’s like trick-or-treating with all the candy.  In addition, I returned with three new lanyards, a squeeze ball, a squeeze duck and  a squeeze plane, several measuring instruments including a tape measure with a built in level, ten miniature flashlights, a couple with built in bottle openers and one with a compass.  A reading magnifier with a light.  There was a nice poster of the periodic table in the conference bag and a coupon to get a free t-shirt with the table of elements.  A blue piggy bank.  A letter opener.  A couple of note pads.  Two big magnet clips.  What can I say?  I love getting free stuff!

The final session I attended with a panel discussion on Qualification and Certification.  I came in as my old friend Carl  was talking. I work with him on CMH-17.   I sat through the remainder of the discussion which was quite interesting.  Apparently it is difficult and expensive to get the FAA to certify airplanes with composite parts.   Afterwards I talked with a few people and then headed home.

I had put 4 quarters into my meter this morning, which covers eight hours, but from 7:30 to nearly 4:00 is slightly more than that and it was expired when I returned.  I had no parking ticket though, so I left happy about that.