January 3, 2011Her job: Associate Professor, Naval Postgraduate School
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I teach decision analysis to graduate students, and research the applications of decision analysis to decisions with environmental consequences.
Why did you choose engineering?
As an undergraduate I had very diverse academic interests, and studied languages, political science, etc. But by the time I was required to choose a major, environmental engineering had the right balance of interest and practical importance. I wanted to do good in the world.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I went to MIT for undergraduate and Georgia Tech for graduate school.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
In academia, much of the work is teaching, writing, and research, which in my field includes modeling, math, and programming.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
My field - industrial engineering and operations research - is at least one step further removed from making and building things than traditional engineering disciplines. The advantage is that our tools can be applied to almost any kind of problem - how to provide relief supplies after a humanitarian disaster; whether to get tested for a disease; or when and how to prepare for a hurricane.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
That's a hard question. Just today I read a report by someone I work with that clearly reflected concepts that he learned from me. Seeing the way people - and not just students - are influenced to think about things a little bit differently is very rewarding.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Like most engineers, I worked hard in school, and I've worked hard since school. There have been some special challenges associated with being a woman - more discouragement and less encouragement than the men received, at every level. I think this is changing for women who are students today. However, it's just slightly harder to fit in with the colleagues, especially those who are a little older.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I'm married with 2 daughters, ages 3 years and -1.5 months, and two pet rabbits. My husband is a musician, but he did earn a M.S. with thesis, so he understands quite well how academia works, which is very nice.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
Still formulating my goals for the week, so I can't speak to longer term goals.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
This is another hard question. I sometimes feel I've stumbled into many of my choices - but I don't recommend that approach! In terms of mentors or role models, as much as I like and respect some of my professors and colleagues, there has never been anyone whose career I tried to emulate.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
I recommend that anyone considering studying engineering or beginning a career in engineering should go for it. It's easier to switch from engineering to a less technical discipline than vice versa, and the comfort with quantitative analysis that comes with an engineering education is valuable in all kinds of endeavors, including business, science, education, and daily life. If you're in school or looking at schools, choose the teacher, not the subject. A good teacher/advisor will inspire you to be interested in the subject and get a lot out of it, and a bad teacher/advisor will do the opposite.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
Currently, work and family take up pretty much all my time. I used to read a lot of fiction and travel internationally a fair amount, and I plan to do that again someday!