Four hours after I had boarded my bus in New York City, I found myself in the Washington D.C. metro, checking Google Maps every five seconds, my suitcase in tow, and riding on the longest escalator I had ever seen in my life. I had come to D.C. only once during an eighth grade school field trip, and now I was back here as an adult: no chaperones, no lame tours, and no hideously colored clothing so that we wouldn’t get lost.
Now, I had gone into the PLEN Women in STEM program thinking that it would provide me with a distinct path to a destined job and future, and I am actually so glad that this was not the case. Every experience I had, every person I met, and every conversation I had reminded me of the fact that, first and foremost, I am a person. I had to remember that I was much more than a student looking to pave her way to a career, but a human being with hopes and ambitions, able to learn from– and one day guide– many other incredible individuals. It was truly humbling to see that in the end, it wasn’t about your educational background, having the longest resume, or holding the largest network of connections, but about being genuinely you. I was reminded that the most important thing was to remember this, and to let that be the driving factor in your career, toward your passions and the forging of meaningful relationships with others.
After the PLEN Women in STEM Policy conference in D.C., I walked away feeling utterly inspired. My head was buzzing with the experiences of other successful women, the realities and struggles some had to face, but also the amazing career options that I never thought possible. There was just something magical about hearing the stories of these women, and then seeing them and realizing “I want to be like her.” Visits to locations like Lockheed Martin and Facebook really opened my eyes to the reality that I was not limited in any way. Science classes in college made my path feel linear and one-dimensional, but PLEN helped to open my eyes to the fact that this was far from the case. Among the researchers and doctors we met, these women in STEM were also policy makers, lobbyists, and directors and chief executives of many different and amazing organizations. But the thing that stood out to me was that no matter what they were doing, from the software engineers to the non-profit workers, there was true passion and purpose in the work they were accomplishing. And they were at this event not only because they loved what they did but they wanted to share that with us all.
There was truly something for everyone, with the different industries and the overlap between them represented in the diverse panel of women at the seminar series. But these women also shared from personal experience that even if you weren’t initially sure what you wanted, there was nothing to hold you back from forging your own way, no matter where that led you. So what does the future hold for me? I have too many ideas but I just don’t know. And yet, for once in my life, the prospect of not knowing is not anxiety-inducing; it makes me feel limitless and incredibly excited for what’s to come.
I cannot thank the amazing staff of PLEN enough for not only putting together this event, but for being so friendly and supportive before, during, and even after the fact. I would also like to thank Ms. Diana A. Blankman and Novo Nordisk for sponsoring the scholarship that allowed me to attend. I am just so proud to call myself a PLEN alumna. With the opportunity to get to know all of these amazing women, from my wonderful peers from all over the country who went on this journey with me, to the passionate and driven women who became my role-models, this was one week in beautiful and lively D.C. that I will never forget.
Grace Bae attended the 2016 Women in STEM Policy seminar as a sophomore at Vassar College.