This past January, I had the privilege of attending PLEN’s Women in STEM Policy seminar, and it was an invaluable experience that greatly expanded my perspective on public policy. Before attending the seminar, I had only a vague understanding of the policy field. In my limited knowledge, I equated “careers in policy” with “lobbying on Capitol Hill” and imagined that the week would consist of meetings with Congresswomen and workshops on legislative affairs, which in itself would have been exciting. However, the seminar proved to be even richer than I had envisioned.
By the time the week had concluded, I had not only come to learn that there was in fact an abundance of opportunities available for women in STEM policy, but I had also met numerous female leaders in the field and been inspired by their stories, gained valuable resources for professional growth, and developed a newfound network of passionate and talented compatriots who, too, wanted to make the nation and the world a better place.
PLEN taught me that when it comes to choosing a career in STEM policy, the possibilities are boundless. Not only are there countless career options to choose from—ranging from working at the National Institute of Health to the Department of Defense, from Capitol Hill to an environmental nonprofit—but there are also multiple paths that can be taken. As the PLEN coordinators often described during the seminar, “it’s a career jungle gym.” Every person has a different story, and every single experience—expected or unexpected—can be valuable in shaping a person’s ultimate career.
PLEN taught me that successful careers in policy often begin with connections. Many of the keynote speakers, panelists, and alumni who spoke with us mentioned having mentors who guided, supported and advocated for them, especially when they were still new to their careers. I learned that networking isn’t as daunting as it appears, that we network more often that we may realize, and that every networking experience is a valuable opportunity to meet someone who may provide us with new insights and be able to help us develop professionally.
PLEN taught me that passion coupled with diligence and perseverance is a powerful combination. Some of the leaders in policy that we met had faced significant setbacks in their careers, yet none of them allowed the challenges to deter them from their dreams. When they encountered barriers, they innovated and came up with creative solutions, forged connections with fellow women in the field, and sought new opportunities that would allow them to continue to grow and thrive.
Attending the PLEN seminar this year widened my perspective and enabled me to become a more informed and engaged member of society. I am incredibly thankful to have had the experience and cannot wait to collaborate with my fellow PLEN alumnae again in the future, on Capitol Hill or beyond.
Are you interested in learning more about working on Capitol Hill with a STEM background? Register for the Women in STEM Policy seminar today!
Joyce Lam attended the 2017 Women in STEM Policy seminar with a scholarship sponsored by the Hopper Dean Foundation. She attended this seminar as a student at the Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University.