Geeky Girl Reality

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Geeky Girl Reality helps girls find STEM-related gigs.

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Latest articles from the Geeky Girl Reality Blog

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?   My name is Alexandra Good, I’m 21 years old and I live in Liverpool, UK. I’m a Product Design Engineer at a company called DefProc Engineering. My job mostly involves working on electronics-based product development and prototyping for businesses and individuals throughout the UK. In my free time, I love getting involved in charity work and experimenting with technology to work on my own projects. 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?   I’ve always been passionate about charity work and humanitarian projects, but I didn’t think that I could make a career out of it, until I started working on my own projects in sixth form. Being able to combine my interests in technology and helping others really excited me, so I decided to study Product Design Engineering at university and did a 9 month placement as a Biomedical Engineer at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. I graduated with a 2:1 in 2018, and I worked as a freelance Product Designer and STEM tutor for Liverpool Girl Geeks for a few months. I now work as an Engineer at DefProc, where I get to work on projects that make a difference to the world around me - which suits me perfectly! Throughout my career, I’ve worked on a wide range of projects - including children’s prosthetics, VR-based assistance tools for sight impaired people, 3D printed explosive replicas to aid in mine risk education in Syria and Mali, British Sign Language to English translation equipment and devices to help elderly and isolated people make new friends in their community.  3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?   What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that every day at my job is an opportunity to learn something brand new, which is really exciting to me. No two days are the same and there’s always a new challenge, so I never find myself feeling bored.  4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?   When I’m feeling stressed, it helps to know that I work in a very supportive environment. If I’m feeling overwhelmed I know I can always talk to the people I work with, and they’re always able to offer me advice and help me solve more difficult problems. I try my best to keep a positive attitude and make sure I don’t give myself a hard time if I find something more challenging than I expected. Outside of work, I like to relax by going for walks, spending time with friends and playing guitar. 5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this? Some STEM-related role models that stand out to me are Alan Turing, Mae Jemison and Rose Will Monroe - also known as the real Rosie the Riveter (I even have a Rosie poster in my room!). Outside of STEM, my role models are Malala Yousafzai and Marsha P. Johnson, as well as the wonderful people around me, like my co-workers, my friends and my family. Even though they aren’t all in STEM careers, I am inspired by how hard they work to pursue their different passions.  6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?   If I could go back in time, I’d encourage myself to do more of what I enjoy. I was so preoccupied with choosing a university degree that would secure me a high-paying job that I didn’t realise that the answer was right in front of me until I started sixth form. I think if I focussed on pursuing what made me happy more than what would get me money, I could have saved myself a lot of stress!  7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?   Look for companies and brands that have morals that match your own, even if they’re not ones that are big or well-known. Not only can this help you understand what type of career suits you best, working on projects that you’re passionate about will make your job much more fun! Find opportunities to network when possible, it might be intimidating to start with but there’s a chance you’ll discover an exciting new company or job role that you’ve never heard of. Try and get work experience (whether it’s volunteering, an internship or a part time job) that’s related to what you’re interested in. It’s a good way to work out if that career is right for you, and it helps you stand out from the crowd when looking for a job.  8. How do you measure your success?   When I want to measure my success, I look back on where I was at that point the year before. I’ve done this since I was about 15 and it always helps because a lot can happen in a year!  9. Where can we find out more about your work?   To find out more about DefProc Engineering, you can find us at our website: https://www.defproc.co.uk/ or you can follow us on Twitter: @DefProcEng  10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?   To find out more about me, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn My Instagram : alexandragood.design My Twitter: Alexandra Good My LinkedIn: Alexandra Good (BSc Hons)  
1. Say hi :) who are you what do you do?   Hello! My name is Sophie, I am a researcher and science writer with experience in healthy aging, patient engagement, and scientific research. My articles regarding the intersection of technology and healthcare, including how innovations transform the management of chronic disease for diverse populations, have been published extensively, most notably appearing in PBS Next Avenue, Forbes, MarketWatch, Brandchannel, Pfizer Get Old and other media outlets. I have a bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics, a master’s degree in public and community health and a graduate certificate in gerontology.  2. How did you arrive at this career? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?   As a young girl, I was an avid reader. I had a budding interest in science and became inspired by my mother’s love of science and healthcare. She started and operated a community pharmacy for several years, where I became exposed to different views of health including patient engagement, health promotion, and preventive medicine. After I graduated with my master’s degree, I launched Global Health Aging, a web-based publication featuring news, research and policy implications on healthy longevity. The website is listed as a resource for research on aging and age-related diseases by the Dahlgren Memorial Library at Georgetown University Medical Center. Global Health Aging has also been nominated twice by Wego Health for the 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2017 Patient Leader Hero Awards. I am very fortunate to have a diverse background because of the different paths I’ve followed and opportunities that have presented themselves to me since graduation.   3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?   Contributing to valuable research that impacts science and public health gives me a sense of purpose. I am passionate about improving healthcare through research, innovation, and collaboration, my latest report explores the social and financial costs of millennial dementia caregivers. Also writing for various media outlets such as Salon, Brandchannel and PBS Next Avenue have been a dream come true.  4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?   I am a proud bibliophile! I de-stress by reading, my favorite genres are fantasy, science fiction, and even cookbooks. I also curate my book account on Twitter, where I share my love of books and movies. In times of doubt, I try to remember my past successes and read inspirational quotes, I especially love this quote “You are worth so much more than your productivity.” My family and close friends also offer the best motivational talks. Self-care is essential, my goal is to make it a priority and never take it for granted.  5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?   My future self. I’m inspired to do better each day physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I must also mention my mother. Her example and mentorship had a huge influence on the formation of my career goals. She encouraged my fascination with science, I still have fond memories of her explaining chemical reactions and equations at the dinner table. Thanks to my mother, chemistry was and still is one of my favorite subjects.  6. What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self? Work smart as well as hard because it will pay off in the future. Realize that your challenges and struggles are temporary although it may not feel so. Always remember to confide in family members and close friends, they are your biggest allies. And finally, there are many paths to your dream, so believe in yourself and embrace your unique gifts. Remain committed and practice patience to achieve your goals, ignore the negative.  7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?   First and foremost, it’s awesome that you’ve chosen the STEM field! Find allies within and outside your field. For the longest time, my closest allies were colleagues in other fields like social work, international business and nursing. They were my cheerleaders in difficult and challenging times. Find a mentor. Mentors can help you develop your career. I’ve had mentors at different times in my career, it makes a big difference. A mentor can also encourage you to join professional organizations that are relevant to your field. Volunteer your time, energy or skills. This can help with building your network and connecting with people who share your passion and purpose. A couple of initiatives include The STEM Squad and Her STEM Story. Personal branding (marketing yourself and your career as a brand) is also important as you build your STEM career. 8. How do you measure your success?   I’ve realized that success is relative. The most important lesson is to learn to give yourself grace and celebrate your achievements, whether few or many. Everyone is on a journey and it's uniquely their own. Here are some of my favorite inspirational quotes that show what success to me is.  “Have courage and be kind.” “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “Different paths in life are not always the wrong path.” “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” “Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”  9. Where can we find out more about your work?   https://soinspiredhealth.com/   https://globalhealthaging.org/   10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?   Yes! I would love to connect with young STEM women. I’m active on Twitter @sophieokolo
Name: Bathabile Mpofu Role/Occupation: MD at Nkazimulo Applied Sciences Country: South Africa Bathabile Mpofu is the Managing Director at Nkazimulo Applied Sciences and the creator of the science kit, ChemStart. ChemStart was designed to help young people become scientists by giving them a chance to perform science experiments themselves, to better understand the practical component of their lessons, thus preparing them for science careers. As part of the package, the company also does science experiments at schools to get young people excited about science. As a young girl, Mpofu had aspired to become a doctor, however the secondary education offered to her could not adequately prepare her to meet this aspiration, “Imagine how it feels like to come to the knowledge that your future as you imagined it, is never going to happen and it’s not your fault? You are capable but are disempowered?... Thousands of learners go through this experience every year! That is not right,” she recalls. Ultimately, she studied a BSc majoring in Chemistry and Biology and then worked as a technician at the university. As a technician, she came across many students who experienced struggles similar to her known, this mobilised Mpofu to action and she founded her own company and developed ChemStart. “High school didn’t prepare me for tertiary education to learn to become a doctor, but now I have an opportunity to prepare and help others become the scientists they aspire to be through ChemStart... ChemStart makes science come to life and prepares learners for tertiary education,” she explains. Mpofu admits that running a business is difficult but she wouldn’t have it any other way, “because I am doing something I believe in, in something whose vision I crafted myself, I always work towards achieving it. I am not under compulsion but driven by passion.” She envisions that one day “a graduate of medicine [will say] that ChemStart contributed in their journey of becoming a doctor.” Her advise to young woman hoping to enter the STEM field is to utilise the power within, “the power to change one’s life for a better future lies within each person and if we dream about what we want, be willing to take action that leads towards making the dream a reality…we can achieve anything we want to achieve.” Mpofu feels that the current South African climate is conducive to the advancement of women in STEM, this country “has so many opportunities for women to pursue STEM careers… I have had some opportunities presented to me which I’ve taken hold of, I’ve been celebrated for being in STEM… It is a land of opportunity for everyone, but men still progress further than women. I think work needs to be done on mindset and not just the opportunities.” Read more about our Geeky Girl, Bathabile Mpofu, who makes science come to live more than a ChemStart kit in an inspiring interview below.  1. Describe what your work entails.   At the company I developed a science kit called ChemStart. This kit is designed to help young people become scientists by giving them a chance to perform science experiments themselves, preparing them for science careers, and to better understand the practical component of their lessons. We also do science experiments at schools to get young people excited about science.  2. Describe your STEM journey.   I wanted to grow up and become a doctor but high school education didn’t prepare me for this. Imagine how it feels like to come to the knowledge that your future as you imagined it, is never going to happen and it’s not your fault? You are capable but are disempowered? I know how it feels because is exactly what happened to me. Thousands of learners go through this experience every year! That is no right! I ended up studying BSc majoring in Chemistry and Biology and I was fortunate to get a job at the university as a technician and got to see many young people going to the struggle like I did. When life dishes you lemons, you make lemon juice, this eventuality defined my new purpose in life. High school didn’t prepare me for tertiary education to learn to become a doctor, but now I have an opportunity to prepare and help others become the scientists they aspire to be through ChemStart. I started a company so I could do this. ChemStart makes science come to life and prepares learners for tertiary education.  3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?   I love the fact that I can fulfil my purpose in life through my job. Running a business is not easy though but because I am doing something I believe in, in something whose vision I crafted myself, I always work towards achieving it. I am not under compulsion but driven by passion. What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? The opportunity that I contribute towards helping young people fulfil their dreams. I imagine a day when a graduate of medicine says that ChemStart contributed in their journey of becoming a doctor.  4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space?   I have had some opportunities presented to me which I’ve taken hold of, I’ve been celebrated for being in STEM and the environment in this country is conducive and encouraging to women to advance in STEM. Whether women are able to use these opportunities is a different question.  5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field?    The power to change one’s life for a better future lies within each person and if we dream about what we want, be willing to take action that leads towards making the dream a reality…we can achieve anything we want to achieve. Right now SA has so many opportunities for women to pursue STEM careers 6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”?   It is a land of opportunity for everyone, but men still progress further than women. I think work needs to be done on women’s mindset and not just the opportunities.  7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career?   The moment I realised that my struggles and challenges I faced in my journey have helped me find my purpose in life. In Jan 25 th , 2015 I had that eureka moment where I said “I‘ve found my purpose in life”  8. How do you maintain a work-life balance?    Honestly this is hard, I have learned to ask for help as much as I can and then share the success with others. There is no-way I could do all this on my own.  9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you?    Oprah…she decided at a young age that she will be who she has become. After achieving all that she remains humble and is passionate about building other people.  10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found?   www.nkazisciences.co.za www.facebook.com/nkazisciences   Twitter Handle:  @BathabileMpofu Bathabile Mpofu interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter  @dhrutidd
1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? My name is Priya Shukla. I am a PhD student at UC Davis studying the impacts of climate change on the seafood we grow along the California coast. I also write about the oceans and climate change in a digital column on Forbes Science. 2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? I took a long and windy path here. When I was applying to college, I was planning on pursuing a career in biotechnology and while nursing dreams of becoming a theatre actor! Halfway through my undergraduate career at UC Davis, I took a general geology class called "The Oceans", where I discovered that the oceans were imperiled by climate change. I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I tacked an Oceanography minor onto my Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Management. But, I didn't jump straight from this class into my PhD! In fact, after college, I worked for an environmental consulting firm and taught high school for a year. I then went to San Diego State University, where I received my Master's after studying how climate change affected underwater kelp forests. I then worked for public education and marine policy organizations and managed a research group before returning to UC Davis to begin my PhD last fall. After my Master's I became deeply passionate about connecting the science I was doing with the people who either benefited from it (like communities that depend on fishing for income) or could do something with it (like our congressional representatives). And, one way I figured I could do that was by by writing, which is why I spend a small part of each month publishing articles about breaking science news! 3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings? Wow - this is a hard question for me because so many things get me excited! But, I have to say that there are two things: [1] I absolutely love learning new things and a PhD is such a good way to do exactly that. You get spend several years at the cutting edge of science, discovering new things, and learning so many different skills along the way. [2] I love thinking about who my research could one day help. I study the effects of climate change on seafood in California, where seafood is considered a luxury item. However, California is on the frontlines of climate change and is oceanographically similar to parts of the world where seafood is an economic and nutritional necessity. Therefore, understanding impacts in California could be beneficial for communities elsewhere in the world that don't have access to the same financial or educational resources that we do here. 4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story? I love doing yoga - not only is it great exercise and source of stress relief, but I also use it help cure my writer's block! I remember I was on a tight deadline to submit a major grant back in 2014 and I was struggling to figure out how to bridge two concepts in one of my essays. I took a break from my marathon writing session to go to a yoga class and the inspiration came to me halfway through my class. And, I did end up receiving the grant. :) 5. Who is your role model? As a woman of color in the marine sciences, I don't see very many faces like my own. So, learning about Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson was a revelation for me. Not only did she help organize the March for Science a couple years ago, but she founded her own organization, the Ocean Collectiv, to bring together scientists, policymakers and community members to develop justice-oriented solutions for problems that coastal communities are facing. 6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? I am so proud of the work I do, but I do wish I could remember to just enjoy the incredible life I get to live. I've gotten better at "stopping to smell the roses", but it's something I'm still working on. I downloaded the "1-second every day" app in November for this reason ... and am finally starting to use it 3 months later! 7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM? [1] When it gets challenging, you know you're doing things right. If it's easy, it doesn't stay fun for long. So, when the going gets tough, keep at it but don't be too hard on yourself. [2] Take time to figure out what you don't like. You often have to do a lot of tasks that don't appeal to you before you find the ones you do enjoy! [3] Think about how you can help people with your talents. If you're an engineer, for example, what could you build/develop that could help someone in need? Or, is there someone in your community who is also interested in engineering but doesn't have the same resources? 8. How do you measure your success? When I started my PhD, I made an academic & non-academic bucket list to make sure I would use that time to learn skills that I would one day be capable of doing the kind of work that Dr. Ayana Johnson does. So, I've taken to active steps towards checking off those boxes! 9. Where can we find out more about your work? Check out my website and my online blog! 10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you? You can follow me on Twitter: @priyology!
Edith Mugehu is a molecular plant breeder. Mugehu has always loved agriculture and opted to take agricultural science subjects at high school. However, Mugehu's journey has not been without hurdles, “I had to struggle to get my degrees due to economic handicaps but because of my desire to become a better version of myself I persevered until I acquired my education,” she recalls.  Mugehu thoroughly enjoys her job, “I get the chance to manipulate nature and apply scientific principles. Through my work I am given a chance to create plant life through scientific techniques which without would have been impossible.” Being a molecular plant breeder affords Mugehu an opportunity to enjoy nature both directly and through a microscope, “I count myself very fortunate to be able to be part of a hidden universe of microbial and molecular life which is unknown to most people.” Mugehu believes that if your work involves something that you love it will be easier to meet your goals and targets, “my work comes naturally to me and this allows me to be as innovative as I can so that I can fulfil expectations without infringing on my personal life,” she explains.   Mugehu co-leads a 30-person research service team which includes both project design and project facilitation. Her work involves the evaluation of genetic diversity among sugarcane accessions; the establishment and evaluation of a germplasm molecular profiling technique; the coordination of the molecular biology laboratory for the sugarcane industry and the supervision, scientific support and mentoring of undergraduate students as well as providing classical and molecular plant breeding support to the industry’s research and development portfolio.  Mugehu major career milestone involved her establishing the first ever molecular laboratory for the Zimbabwe Industry in 2016. This was something which had never been established before and contributed immensely to the Zimbabwe Sugarcane Breeding Program. Mugehu has faced her fair share challenges in the STEM field as a woman, “as a woman in a male dominated sector it is extremely difficult to convince a potential employer that you are just as capable as your male counterparts... yet I have managed to emerge as the more efficient and reliable person in each circumstance,” she explains. Her advice to young women entering the STEM field, “be brave and never lose yourself by trying to be a man. You and your authentic self are enough... You do not need to be masculine... your brilliant mind is adequate and never accept less than that.” Her overall opinion of STEM progress on the continent is positive, “Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources and more women rising and coming together to utilise these resources. Gradually the stereotypes and myths associated with women and careers will be deleted. The proportion of women in STEM will increase.” Read about our Geeky Girl, Edith Mugehu in an inspirational interview that’s sweeter than sugar cane.  1. Describe what your work entails. Co-leading a 30-person research services team including project design and facilitation Evaluation and establishment of a germplasm molecular profiling technique Evaluation of genetic diversity among sugarcane accessions the industry’s gene bank Coordination and establishment of first ever molecular biology laboratory for Zimbabwe sugarcane industry Supervision, scientific support and mentoring of undergraduate students and Providing classical and molecular plant breeding support to the industry’s research and development portfolio.  2. Describe your STEM journey. I did not stumble into this career path because I have always loved agriculture. I took agricultural science subjects by choice in high school and from those early days I knew I would stay in that field. However, it hasn’t been easy. I had to struggle to get my degrees due to economic handicaps but because of my desire to become a better version of myself I persevered until I acquired my education. 3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? I have always been in love with nature and science. Each day I get the chance to manipulate nature and apply scientific principles. Through my work I am given a chance to create plant life through scientific techniques which without would have been impossible. I get to experience the intense and rich diversity of nature both through the naked eye and through the microscope. I count myself very fortunate to be able to be part of a hidden universe of microbial and molecular life which is unknown to most people. 4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? The challenges never stopped coming and they are still coming because as a woman in a male dominated sector it is extremely difficult to convince a potential employer that you are just as capable as your male counterparts. In many instances my employer has put more faith in a male than in me, yet I have managed to emerge as the more efficient and reliable person in each circumstance. 5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? Be brave and never lose yourself by trying to be a man. You and your authentic self are enough to make it in the STEM field. You do not need to be masculine to be in STEM, your brilliant mind is adequate and never accept less than that. 6. As a STEM woman in Africa, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? The future of STEM is female. More women are venturing into STEM disciplines and in turn uplifting other women to improve female retention in these disciplines. Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources and more women rising and coming together to utilise these resources. Gradually the stereotypes and myths associated with women and careers will be deleted. The proportion of women in STEM will increase. 7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? I managed to establish the first ever molecular laboratory for the Zimbabwe Industry in 2016. This is something which had never been established before and contributed immensely to the Zimbabwe Sugarcane breeding program. 8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? When your career is centred around something you love it becomes easy to meet goals and targets such that you never have to struggle for time. My work comes naturally to me and this allows me to be as innovative as I can so that I can fulfil expectations without infringing on my personal life. I also make sure that my personal life does not spill over into my career by setting clearly timed and defined personal life goals. 9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? Myself. I always use myself as an inspiration. Every time I come across a challenge I look back at situation where I would have conquered and I get inspiration from that. I always push myself by reminding my present self that I can be a better version of my past self. 10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? https://www.techwomen.org/techwomen-mentees/edith-mugehu https://cs.lbl.gov/news-media/news/2018/cs-hosts-emerging-women-leaders/ https://owsd.net/member/mugehu-edith   Twitter Handle:   @EMugehu Edith Mugehu interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter  @dhrutidd
Name: Emily Gleeson Role/Occupation: PhD Student in Aerospace Engineering Country: Canada As far as Gleeson can remember she has always wanted to understand how things worked and enjoyed helping her parents build things. A visit to the planetarium as a young girl gave her a push in the STEM direction, “it unleashed my curiosity for space exploration and is the same time I decided I wanted to be an astronaut,” she recalls. At high school she gravitated towards the mathematics, science and computer courses and went on to complete an undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University.  For two summers, Gleeson interned at an engineering construction company and worked on building hydroelectric power plants in the mountains of western Canada after which she accepted a position as project manager for a Mechanical Contractor. In the interest of expanding her growth opportunities, she later joined Procter and Gamble in logistics and business operations planning. After four years and much thinking, she decided to follow her dreams of space exploration by returning to graduate studies, after being out of the academic environment for over 6 years. She leapt into the Master of Applied Science program in Aerospace Engineering at Ryerson University and after achieving a high academic standing in her studies, she was encouraged by her supervisor and professors to join the doctoral program. Gleeson is currently part of the space systems research group and is working in a new area of study which involves developing advanced guidance, navigation and control systems for robotic spacecrafts for use in autonomous on-orbit assembly. The use of a robotic spacecraft to assemble a space station, possibly near the moon or Mars would allow for space habitats to be built on-orbit with no human intervention, making them more affordable and reducing risk of human life. “Every week is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, feeling brilliant and feeling like an imposter but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!” she exclaims as she discusses her doctoral studies. Being able to contribute to the future of space exploration is what motivates Gleeson on a daily basis; “there are endless possibilities of what the future holds in astronautical sciences. It is such an exciting time to be in this field with the renewed interest in human space travel and the push to get to Mars,” she explains. Her experience as a woman in STEM has not been without hurdles; “there have been many times where it has been questioned whether or not I was qualified enough, especially when working above men who were more than twice my age,” she explains. But as a very strong willed individual, she made a point of proving herself and her abilities in any job by doing her very best. Prejudice also affected her sense of dress, “I struggled a lot with what to wear on the job site so as not to draw the wrong type of attention towards me. I would honestly dress like a man, loose jeans, golf shirt and steel toed boots,” she recalls. However her attempts at embracing a more masculine style were futile, “Not only did I still get attention for being a woman, I lost my confidence as well because I wasn’t being true to myself. I now realize you need to be true to who you are and stick to your values regardless of the environment,” she explains. Gleeson feels that encouraging more women to join the STEM space will normalise their presence and hence lessen the current biases and prejudices towards women in STEM. However in terms of career advancement, Gleeson has fortunately met with success, “I don’t think that being a woman ever held me back in that respect. I have always had managers who supported me and saw the potential I had to offer, regardless of gender.” Her advice to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field is to just go for it, “you are smart enough and strong enough to do anything you put your mind to, it may not always be easy, and you will experience failure but learn from it and you will be so proud of yourself in the end.”  With regards to her opinion of the advancement of STEM in Africa as someone looking in from the outside, Gleeson believes that Africa can provide invaluable contributions to the growth of STEM fields globally through the “unique problems and perspectives used to solve them [challenges or difficulties] that differ from those [methods or solutions] in North America or Europe… Where there is a gap there is opportunity for growth and I think the entire world will benefit from growth and progress of STEM in Africa.”  Gleeson experienced one of her major career defining moments when she was still part of the corporate world, “my eureka moment actually happened when I was on vacation, I was reading The Martian by Andy Weir on the beach and realized I would rather be stranded on Mars than accept a promotion at my current job – turns out that is not how everyone feels... Haha!” she exclaims as she remembers having to make the tough decision of becoming a student again. She is a big promoter of work-life balance, “I believe you do your best and most efficient work when you are happy and fulfilled in all aspects of your life so you can’t neglect either side of the equation.” To achieve this balance, she also applies the 80/20 rule, “If you can manage a healthy work-life balance 80% of the time, the remaining 20% of your time can be flexible to complete a deadline for work or take an extra day off if you feel you need it.” Read more about this space enamoured Geeky Girl, Emily Gleeson in an inspiring interview which will take you on an adventure to various planets of knowledge as she shares her journey with us.  1. Describe what your work entails. I entered the 3 rd year of my PhD in Aerospace Engineering last fall. I am part of the space systems research group at Ryerson University and I am working towards developing advanced guidance, navigation and control systems for robotic spacecraft for use in autonomous on-orbit assembly. This is a new area of study and is necessary as we look towards building a space station near the moon or Mars. The use of robotic spacecraft to assemble such a station would allow for space habitats to be built on-orbit with no human intervention, making them more affordable and greatly reducing risk of human life.  Additionally, I am involved in the attitude determination and control system team for two small satellites, one of which will be launching from the International Space Station soon.  2. Describe your engineering journey. My engineering journey has been an interesting one. Since I was very young, I loved to understand how things worked and always wanted to help build things with my parents. When I was ten I visited a planetarium and it unleashed my curiosity for space exploration and is the same time I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. Throughout high school I gravitated towards the mathematics, science and computer courses which led me to apply to engineering in University. I didn’t entirely understand what engineering was at that point, but I was told if I liked math and science it would be a good fit.  I did my undergraduate degree in Applied Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University. During my undergrad I learned how to manage failure for the first time in my life and how to use it to improve myself and move forward. I interned at an engineering construction company working on building hydroelectric power plants in the mountains of western Canada for two summers which led me to accepting a position as a project manager for a Mechanical Contractor after graduation. After a few years, I was interested in expanding my growth opportunities which is when I joined Procter and Gamble in logistics and business operations planning where I stayed for 4 years before deciding to take the leap and follow my dreams of space exploration by returning to graduate studies.  Initially, I started in the Master of Applied Science program in Aerospace Engineering at Ryerson in 2016, which was terrifying after being out of the academic environment for over 6 years. However, with a lot of hard work and determination, I achieved a high level of academic standing and was encouraged by my supervisor and my Advanced Controls professor to consider transferring into the doctoral program. My transfer was accepted starting in the fall of 2017 and I have been working towards my PhD ever since. Every week is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, feeling brilliant and feeling like an imposter but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!  3. What excites you about your job? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? The thought of being able to contribute to the future of space exploration is what keeps me dreaming every night and what gets me out of bed every morning. I learn something new every day in this field and there are endless possibilities of what the future holds in astronautical sciences. It is such an exciting time to be in this field with the renewed interest in human space travel and the push to get to Mars. I love what I do and am so proud to be a part of it.  4. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the STEM space? I have grown a lot as a woman in STEM since I first stepped into the workforce in 2010. There have been many times where it has been questioned whether or not I was qualified enough, especially when working above men who were more than twice my age. I have always been a very strong willed individual and I make a point to prove myself and my abilities in any job by doing my best work. Prejudice as a female in this industry doesn’t only come in the form of proving your capabilities. When I first started working I struggled a lot with what to wear on the job site so as not to draw the wrong type of attention towards me. I would honestly dress like a man, loose jeans, golf shirt and steel toed boots. Did it work? No. Not only did I still get attention for being a woman, I lost my confidence as well because I wasn’t being true to myself. I now realize you need to be true to who you are and stick to your values regardless of the environment. This is another reason why we need more women in STEM, we need to normalize having women present in all workplaces to remove this bias.  In terms of career advancement, luckily, I don’t think that being a woman ever held me back in that respect. I have always had managers who supported me and saw the potential I had to offer, regardless of gender. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is always the case but if you can, find a company that values equal and equitable opportunities for everyone.  5. What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the STEM field? If there is something in engineering or STEM fields that fuel your curiosity and passion, then GO FOR IT! You are smart enough and strong enough to do anything you put your mind to, it may not always be easy, and you will experience failure but learn from it and you will be so proud of yourself in the end. If there is a dream job you would love but think “how could I possibly get there?” just take it one step at a time, understand what qualifications you need and start there. You may find that along the way, your passion lies elsewhere or it will fuel your determination even more.  6. As a STEM woman, how do you foresee the growth and progress of STEM on the continent? Is Africa a “land of opportunity”? I am not a STEM woman in Africa, nor am I fully educated on the current STEM economy in Africa but I did not want to leave this question blank. Looking at it purely from a perspective of why it is so important to even have more women in STEM in that it will almost double the contributions and provide differing opinions and approaches to solving problems. There is so much potential in Africa to provide invaluable contributions to the advancement in many STEM fields with unique problems and perspectives used to solve them that differ from those in North America or Europe for example. Where there is a gap there is opportunity for growth and I think the entire world will benefit from growth and progress of STEM in Africa. Another reason why it is so important to have equitable access to opportunities and education for everyone.  7. Have there been any milestone moments or eureka moments in your career? There have definitely been some defining moments throughout my career that has led me to where I am today. When you are in your early twenties and excited to finally be done school and in the workforce, making money it is very easy to get side-tracked from your passions and what a fulfilling career really means. It took me some time to really understand that money isn’t everything and that if you have a dream job and don’t do anything about it you will always feel like something is missing. My eureka moment actually happened when I was on vacation, I was reading The Martian by Andy Weir on the beach and realized I would rather be stranded on Mars than accept a promotion at my current job – turns out that is not how everyone feels... Haha! Leaving a great job with a multinational company to become a graduate student was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made but I am so proud of where I am today and am excited to see what the future has in store for me in this exciting field.  8. How do you maintain a work-life balance? I feel like I should be a spokesperson for work-life balance. It is probably the most important criteria for me when looking at jobs. I believe you do your best and most efficient work when you are happy and fulfilled in all aspects of your life so you can’t neglect either side of the equation. I make sure to make plans and commitments external to my work to keep me accountable for enjoying life outside of my studies. That being said, you can’t plan out your entire life so this is where the 80/20 rule is helpful. If you can manage a healthy work-life balance 80% of the time, the remaining 20% of your time can be flexible to complete a deadline for work or take an extra day off if you feel you need it. The important thing is to understand what makes you happy and stick to your values and principles. I am very clear at work that I value my life outside of my career. As long as you are doing your work to the best of your abilities, you can end your day feeling satisfied with your accomplishments.  9. Who is your role model? Who inspires you? I can’t say that I have one role model in particular so I will give you a few examples of who and what inspire me. The first one will have to be Elon Musk. Yes he is very successful and smart and seems to have his hands in every new technology lately but what inspires me so much about Elon Musk is his unequivocal determination for pushing past the impossible. There is nothing that bothers me more than when someone say’s “that can’t be done, it’s not possible”. I like to think that there is always a solution, it just may not be an obvious one. Elon Musk has repeatedly proven this with his reusable rockets and the impressive performance of the Tesla vehicles.  The second one is women past, present and future, my list grows daily. There is so much strength and courage being displayed by women everywhere and I find it so inspiring. When I started my blog and started working on the Lady Boss section by asking former classmates for their stories I was overwhelmed by the reaction, respect and support everyone showed towards them. People are now reaching out to me to nominate their friends or colleagues who they think are great role models and it just goes to show that there are SO many amazing and talented women out there. Sometimes it’s hard to see other women in your field and not compare your accomplishments to theirs and rank yourself but I’ve been really trying to focus my attention on grouping all of the awesome women together. We really need to get out of the mindset of being the best woman in the room and help lift each other up to illustrate and normalize how many incredible women are all around us.  10. Where can more information or insight into your work be found? I have a blog, Space Broaddity, ( www.spacebroaddity.com ) which is more of a creative outlet of mine. I intend to showcase more of my research in the future but currently I am using it as a tool to promote engineering and STEM careers and some awesome ladies who are leading by example.  Twitter:  @EmGleeson Emily Gleeson  interviewed by Dhruti Dheda Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter  @dhrutidd
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