Establishing a personal life and a professional career as a woman is a challenge that women in the science fields face according to the College of Science and the Marriott Library.
The challenge of having both an “academic, career-driven” life in addition to a “traditional family life style” is the central focus of the College of Science and Marriott Library’s annual Women in Science lecture.
Yesterday afternoon female science professionals from the U offered their stories and advice to female students pursuing degrees in the sciences.
“How did you manage family life with all you did?” one student asked Vivian Lee who with her M.D., Ph.D. and M.B.A. now holds the positions of Senior Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean of the U’s School of Medicine.
Lee answered this question with personal details about how she managed to establish a family of five along side her academic and professional work.
Lee who has four children, told the audience that she and her husband “started late” having a family, and joked about the practical measures she takes now to keep up with the simultaneous demands of her family and professional work.
Lee evoked laughs from the audience with stories from her life that influenced the route she took to obtaining the career and credentials she now has.
Such advice as having a closet fully loaded with birthday presents, which are ready for her kids to throw in a gift bag and have take to a birthday party was among personal anecdotes that Lee shared with her predominantly female audience. But further, Lee also told the students how even bad experiences in her life had positive outcomes in the long run.
As a student Lee told the story of missing pancreatic cancer in a patient she analyzed under a professor’s supervision.
“He was delighted… absolutely delighted,” that she failed to make the diagnosis Lee said, and that his words to her in the event were, “you know, you are really over-rated.”
But Lee continued the story to say that in the end, the acute attention to cancer diagnosis in the pancreas manifested itself in the ability to save a life years later when she made an early detection in a patient.
“Good things come of it if you can learn the lesson,” Lee said of her initially negative experience.
Lee’s delivery of her advice made it accessible to senior chemistry student, Jenny Edwards.
“The way she spoke was very personable and not horah speech like, ‘don’t give up, you can do it.’ She pointed out the facts; she had a family late, (and said) ‘this is how you do it’,” said Edwards, senior chemistry major.
Nalini Nadkarni, Director of Center for Science and Math Education also shared her story with the students.
Nadkarni described developing multiple interests growing up, which included “loving trees and modern dance.”
“I sat down in a cafe and read over my journals and realized: field biology is it,” said Nadkarni, but elaborated on her story to students shared with the students numerous paths to go from being a student to professional.
Nadkarni displayed the “direct route” from studies to a career on a cue card that showed a straight line from point A to point B, informing the audience that “this is the path my brother took.”
But several cue cards later Nadkarni had the students laughing as she held up a demonstration of the “spaghetti sauce” model where the path is “hot sauce” with meatballs equating to points A, B, C, D and E are continually moving around.
“Your life is not, in my opinion, moved by destiny entirely, and it’s also not 100 percent determine buy choice, a meatball may come by…(as a new opportunity),” Nadkarni said.
Suzanne Charlton, Team Leader in Operational Disciplines at the Salt Lake City Chevron refinery offered advice in support of Nadkarni’s message.
“Just work right now and think about what your next step will be,” Charlton said who told the audience that she never knew what was ahead of her on her pursuit to obtaining her career.
“We’re trying to get more women feeling like they can succeed in the field and not have to choose between a traditional family life and an academic career-driven lifestyle,” said Drew DeHaan, from the College of Science who helped organize the lecture.
In the opinion of first year Ph.D. student of molecular biology, Shruto De, the lecture accomplished the College of Science and Marriott Library’s goal.
“I really liked knowing how they survived after they have come all this way. It give me a perspective of where I could be in 20 years,” said De.