Women’s History Month – Alumni Advice for STEM Majors

Three Princeton alumnae gathered Wednesday at Career Services Wisdom for Women in STEM Majors. Akira Bell Johnson ’95, Cheryl Rowe-Rendleman ’81 and Joanna Nice ’06 have all had substantial careers in the sciences since leaving Princeton, and they offered advice and perspectives on being a woman in the sciences.

One of the most repeated pieces of advice was to find a mentor. All the women spoke about being humbled during their undergraduate years, and Johnson put it succinctly when she said, “It doesn’t pay to try to figure something out for a long time.” In any situation, it’s important to recognize when you need help, because that produces better results. “It’s okay to ask questions,” said Nice. “Part of your job is to ask questions.”

The women also emphasized the importance of a support system while balancing work and family. A few grad students asked the panel members, all of whom had children, how they approached the work-home question. Rowe-Rendleman had her first child while in graduate school, and said, “He sat on my lap while I was writing my dissertation.” Though the women it said it’s impossible to be perfect, Johnson said that having a “network of support around your family” helps immensely.

For those not thinking that far into the future, the panel also shared their perspectives on what to do in college. “It’s never too early to start interning,” said Johnson. Even non-science pursuits can be valuable, added Nice. Nice did crew while at Princeton and said she learned about “hard work and discipline and tenacity and teamwork” from her teammates. As far as picking a major, the women agreed that it’s important to do something you’re passionate about that allows you to shine.

For their final words, the panel encouraged taking risks. And “if the guys are talking, talk louder,” said Rowe-Rendleman, later clarifying, “Or, talk differently.”