I was walking with my friend helping her pin up posters to advertise the PLEN seminars throughout our school when I first heard about the PLEN Women in STEM Policy seminar in Washington D.C. The whole time we were hanging up posters, she was talking about her amazing and eye-opening experience at the same seminar over winter break last year. By the time we were done hanging up the 5th poster, I was convinced that I also needed to go and have my own experience at the Women in STEM Policy seminar as well.
Since my junior year of high school, I have had my heart set on one day going to medical school. I have the dream of interacting with patients in a way that will truly change their lives for the better. I worked hard in my classes, was lucky enough to receive a generous scholarship to St. Lawrence, and have been on the pre-med track in college ever since. Even though I know I have the qualifications and ability to go to medical school, I have always had the thought in the back of my head of “what if”? What if I don’t get in? What if all of my hard work is for nothing? What if it’s not what I like to do or it’s not what I expect? As a generally positive and upbeat person, these questions have always bothered me and I always faltered when thinking of what else I would like to do in my life that is both meaningful and challenging. The PLEN seminar helped me see that there are so many other fulfilling careers in the STEM field available besides medical school. Of course I still plan on applying to it in the future and I’m going to try my hardest to achieve this goal. But, after hearing from all of the panelists about their non-linear career paths and how they got to be in a career that they love but never expected, I knew that there was a whole world of possibilities in the STEM policy field that I could fit into. All of the career women I spoke to also had doubts and fears of failure at my age, and it was so reassuring to see that in the end it worked out for them and that their careers in science policy and research are truly making a difference in this world.
Not only did this seminar give me confidence in my future, but it also introduced me to my interest in science policy. Since the 2016 elections I have been consistently passionate about politics and public health policy in relation to health care in the United States. I was able to meet so many different women in the science policy fields from Capitol Hill to the National Institute of Health, and I was able to discover more about what a career in science policy entails. Being able to meet M.D.’s who are physicians but are still involved in policy was very encouraging since it showed I did not need to choose between my passions for policy and medicine. I was able to see the interconnection between many different fields and careers in policy and in our society, and it was very encouraging to discover that I have the ability to pursue all of my interests in STEM policy careers.
However, the part of the Women in STEM Policy seminar that impacted me the most was the friendships I made with other women college students from all over the country. The diverse backgrounds and experiences that everyone brought to the seminar were undeniably powerful. Being able to share our experiences with each other as women in the STEM field was incredibly empowering and I know I have made connections that will last a lifetime. There are many hard-working, intelligent, and determined young women about to enter the workforce, and I hope the STEM policy field is ready for the change we are going to bring one day!