PLEN Showed Me It’s Okay to Not Have a Plan

Renna YiRenna Yi, Junior, Rutgers University 

I had a great time at the PLEN Women in STEM policy seminar. As a start, it was just great to get out and see Washington, D.C. for a week. I had never been there before, and it made me feel important to get to see the White House and Capitol. I even walked past the EPA building.

One of the reasons that I wanted to attend this seminar was to learn what policymakers take into consideration when making decisions, which I think I did. I’d like to do research as a career, and I was personally interested in the area of sustainability. It appears that the scientists themselves don’t have to try to convince lawmakers to set certain policies; lobbyists and activists take that information they come up with and go convey it. That’s good for me to know, because when I’m doing my science, I don’t have to worry that no one would ever look at my results and enact change if that’s called for. I’m glad some people are very passionate about activism, because a job centered on going out and convincing people is not my thing, and, based on the job descriptions given by the speakers at NIH, neither is policymaking.

Another reason I wanted to go was for professional development, and I’d say I did well on that, too. It might surprise everyone there that I’m usually seldom early to anything, because I was pretty much early to everything there. Also, I probably dressed nicer than I’d ever done in my life. It made a really good impression on people, so I guess I now have incentive to do that. I also got great tips for job hunting. It especially felt good to be taken seriously.

The site visits were the best part: I got to go to NASA and Lockheed Martin. At NASA, we got to talk to three panelists about the NASA mission, how they got their jobs, and climate modeling. I had been wondering how climate modeling worked, so it was pretty cool to get to hear that directly from climate scientists. As it turns out, they too find it a depressing topic to work with, so maybe I don’t want to do exactly that. We also got to meet, shake hands with, and take pictures with the administrator. It feels awesome that someone with my kind of background is considered valuable by agencies like NASA.

At Lockheed Martin, the space tour made me seriously consider space research. I mean, I don’t think it’s particularly useful to people right now (preparations for deflecting an incoming asteroid?), but the truth is that if something like a huge asteroid were to head for Earth, it would mean the end of the world. Space is interesting to think about. Maybe I’ll work at one of them, and maybe some of my fellow ladies will be my colleagues.

It was great to hear the personal experiences of professional women who went the STEM route, because that actually gave me a lot more confidence about what I’m doing. My own parents had been dropping heavy hints to me that studying science would lead to unemployment because only geniuses could make it in science, so it was great to have women with advanced degrees telling us the ins and outs of their careers because they seriously thought we could do whatever we were driven to do. It was also great to hear that they changed courses of study quite a bit and still turned out okay, because at this point I sort of want to do everything.

To sum up, I came out of this seminar with a better idea of what I don’t want to do, a better idea of how I’ll fit into society as a scientist, enhanced professional skills, and a brighter outlook for the future. Wow, that was a week well spent. In any case, now I’m just going to go ahead and try everything, one at a time, and see what comes of it.