To be perfectly truthful, I had never really considered a career in public policy prior to attending the PLEN Women in STEM Policy seminar.
I really did not know what I was signing myself up for when my advisor encouraged me to apply. In my mind there were a few different categories of careers relating to STEM. These ranged anywhere from pursuing research, engineering or computer science to medicine. As a sophomore studying Neuroscience at a liberal arts university, I have struggled to find a future career path which is capable of intertwining all my passions. Yet, PLEN opened my eyes to an entirely different world of STEM, one that flourished in the city of Washington D.C.
During my time in the nation’s capital, I heard from so many successful women who embodied multidisciplinary backgrounds. Many of these women began their paths with technical education in the sciences. However, they left their labs behind after some time because they felt disconnected from the people their science was trying to reach. They understood that their STEM backgrounds granted them the unique skill set to pursue other opportunities, things like consulting, lobbying, and scientific translating. The biggest piece of advice from this? I learned that STEM is big, it’s diverse, and it certainly will not confine you to one path.
This seminar affected me both personally and professionally, in ways I am still discovering. I frequently find myself flipping through the pages of notes I took while attending site visits, listening to panels, and hearing from keynote speakers.
I recall during our day spent at the National Institute of Health, we were given the piece of advice to never rule out opportunities. One woman shared an anecdote about getting a job offer on the metro during a power outage! Your future is a winding, unpredictable path. It is important to have goals, but do not be afraid to take advantage of opportunities that might be out of your comfort zone or lead you a little astray from your original plan.
We were encouraged to do a bit of self reflection every five years or so once we have entered the professional world. If you feel as though you will not get anything more out of the position you have, you should move on to bigger and better things. Using this mentality, one will continue to challenge herself throughout her career.
One of the most enlightening experiences during my time at the PLEN seminar was hearing from other women about the struggles they have faced in getting to where they are today. It seemed as though each individual could remember one time when they felt discriminated against, inadequate, or like they didn’t belong in the room. It was refreshing to hear inspiring, strong women sharing anecdotes from some of the most vulnerable times in their life. We discussed imposter syndrome many times throughout the seminar. Why is it that so many women share this same struggle of feeling inadequate, yet it is talked about so infrequently?
I recall having lunch one afternoon with some fellow PLEN students who were studying engineering at a technological university. In some of their engineering courses, they would sometimes be the only female in the room. Sadly, this was also true for them while conducting internships at engineering based companies; the only other female working at the company would be the secretary. Though it is true that things have improved over the years, our society has a long way to go in achieving equality for women leaders, especially in the field of STEM.
I am so thankful for all the opportunities and wisdom that PLEN has provided me. I was pushed out of my comfort zone, while exploring opportunities I never knew existed. Through hearing from new people at a different site throughout Washington D.C. each day, I now know that there are such a diverse range of opportunities out there. It is most important to gain experience, do what you love, and let your passions guide you. I am now an active participant in my school’s chapter of PLEN. On campus, our organization seeks to spread awareness about PLEN while supporting female leadership initiatives. I hope to remain engaged with the inspiring PLEN alumni network and give back one day to this incredible organization!
Lauren Gulbicki is a current sophomore at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. She is majoring in Neuroscience with minors in Public Health and African Studies. On campus, she is an active member of her school’s PLEN organization and various environmental advocacy groups. She attended the Women in STEM Policy seminar in January 2020.