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#STEMStories: Jenny, Instructional Designer, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Jenny Saucerman. I’m an instructional designer: someone who makes online education to teach adults skills for their workplaces. A big part of my job is making educational games and simulations which is pretty awesome! I also work with learning analytics and using statistics to help me understand whether the content I create is effective at teaching my learners. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a master’s degree in educational psychology with a focus on educational gaming.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

Instructional design is interesting because it’s a career path nobody really decides to pursue: it’s usually happenstance that you find yourself doing it. When I was in high school all the way through the end of grad school, I wanted to be a psychology professor. I got my bachelor’s degree in psychology and enrolled in a PhD program. After five years I decided that being a professor wasn’t for me. This was a hard decision to make as that goal had shaped my life for the past 10 years! I talked to a career counselor who recommended that I look into instructional design jobs. It was hard to get my foot in the door as I didn’t have the usual background experience with course development programs. But one company saw my potential and decided to take a chance with hiring me. I realized it was a great fit for me, and I’ve been working as an instructional designer since.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I work for a company that gives me a lot of creative freedom and resources to create awesome content. I love prototyping my crazy ideas and getting positive feedback. It can be easy to get lost in the nitty gritty details of my projects, so I try to think back on positive feedback from learners and fellow instructional designers when I’m having a hard time.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

Having a network of people, personal and professional, has been a lifesaver for me. If I’m stuck on a problem, it usually means that I’m missing a piece of information and I need to talk to someone about it. If I’m stressed out, talking to my husband, friends, and family usually helps. If you’re experiencing stress for a prolonged period of time, talking to a therapist or counselor is helpful too.

If nobody is available to talk or I want to be alone, I go for a walk. I look at the trees and the birds and try to put my problems into perspective.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I think idolizing people strips them of their humanity, so I don’t think having a role model is very helpful to me. I’m a human with human problems, so I can’t learn too much from someone I think is a total rockstar who has their life all put together. Because nobody does! I have learned so much from my favorite professors and my friends by watching them be regular (but awesome!) people and talking to them about their successes and their struggles.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

The future you’re working so hard for? I’m living in it, and it’s wonderful. It doesn’t look the way you think it will, but everything you’re doing is worth it. Just go with the flow.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Failure is fundamental to the learning process. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to get the wrong answer. You’re going to plug the cord into the wrong spot. Your code isn’t going to work on the first try. Now that you know this, let yourself try new things and get the wrong answer and keep trying even if it doesn’t work immediately. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
  2. Think creatively and then critically. Don’t shoot down your ideas right away. Take a moment to consider why that idea came to you: you might notice features that’ll inspire a better solution.
  3. Having hobbies outside your field is very important. I’ve always played with drawing and graphic design as a personal artistic outlet as I studied psychology, statistics, and programming, and I’m so glad I did! I use graphic design almost every day in my job now. Having outside interests will help you make connections between concepts that wouldn’t occur to people who only did STEM work all the time.

8. How do you measure your success?

I consider a project successful when I want other people to play through it and tell me what they think of it. It means I did well enough to want to show it off and watch people as they experience what I’ve made.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

I post about my work on twitter mostly. If you Google my name, you can also read guest blog posts I’ve written or listen to a podcast I was on (https://www.sproutlabs.com.au/blog/assessment-in-elearning/)

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

@jennysaucerman is my twitter handle. You can also add me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennysaucerman/