December 4, 2005Her job: Materials Engineer, Northwestern University
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I’m an emerita professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Northwestern University. “Emerita” means I’m a female retired professor, but I’m not really retired. I still have an active research program, carried out with a post-doctoral fellow (who is just returning to professional life now that her children are older). Before retirement I taught one course each quarter and headed a research group consisting of graduate students and several post-doctoral fellows/visiting scholars. As at the present time, we carried out original research on advanced materials such as high-strength, high-temperature alloys and nanocrystalline metals.
Why did you choose engineering?
When I was in junior high school I was enthralled with airplanes. Airplanes were more exotic back then than the buses of the sky that they are now. I chose to study science and math to become an aeronautical engineer. Somewhere, along about my junior year, I decided I preferred physics and did my undergrad and grad studies in that area.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I like the challenge of research-trying to make new materials, then understanding why they behave the way they do. It’s a continual puzzle-solving process. I also like the pleasure of working with young people. They start out as students, but by the time they complete their Ph.D. or post doctoral work they’ve become colleagues and close friends. It’s also fun to meet someone at a conference overseas who says he’s (it’s still almost always a “he”) familiar with my research and publications and admires my work.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Perhaps the hardest challenge I have met was re-entering the work force after 13 years of parenting, switching fields of expertise, and starting up a research program with encouragement but no start-up funds or equipment. My prides and joys are my former students, who have gone on to careers of high achievement in engineering.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I met my husband in my first year of graduate school: he was a returning GI student in a physics class for which I was the teaching assistant. (I dated him on Fridays and his lab partner on Saturdays.)
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
A number of people have influenced my career path. First, and most fundamentally, were my parents who quietly instilled in me the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to. I had an outstanding thesis advisor, excellent supervisor at Naval Research Laboratory, and now top-notch colleagues at Northwestern. My husband has enthusiastically supported and encouraged me.