Posts Tagged ‘career’

Room Full of 5000 Women: The Highlights

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Last week I went to the 25th annual Professional Businesswomen of California conference in San Francisco. Usually I’m leery of all-women activities, but it was an excuse to visit friends in town (and because Arianna Huffington was one of the keynote speakers). The conference convinced me that there are certain issues that require gathering thousands of women in one place and educating them, but also that more men need to be involved in the discussion.

The main takeaway from the conference was that women feel stressed and overburdened, because they take on too many things and want to do all of them perfectly. That certainly resonated with me. When women don’t do everything to perfection, they lose confidence and hold themselves back. Being aware of these differences is the first step to doing something about them.

Arianna Huffington focused on burnout. She likened valuing money and power for success to sitting on a two-legged stool; it’s unstable and prone to failure. She encouraged us to get more sleep (something I’ve already improved over the past two years), and take time to relax, disconnect, and reflect. Her most shocking and memorable part of the speech was when one day, sleep-deprived and exhausted, she collapsed onto her desk and woke up in a pool of blood. She had broken her cheekbone and had to get stitches. That’s when she realized, “If you come to in a pool of blood and nobody has shot you, that is not success.”
Three other quotes from her speech that I particularly liked were on not internalizing stress and not feeling victimized when things don’t go as planned: “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen,” “Live life as if the world is rigged in your favor” (Rumi), and “Our eulogies have nothing to do with our resumes.”

Another powerful keynote speaker was Charlotte Beers, who is apparently known as “the most powerful woman in advertising” and “the queen of Madison Avenue.” It was obvious that she had extensive experience and wisdom in succeeding in male-dominated corporate environments. I was so intrigued by her that I bought her book, I’d Rather Be in Charge. She advised us to “go for influence instead of the corner office.” She pointed out that women are too modest, and to “Burn ‘modest.'” Women apparently focus on knocking things off their to-do list and getting their work done instead of building relationships like the men do, so she snapped at us to “knock it off!”

One of the break-out sessions I went to was titled “Gender Differences in Saying ‘No'” by Dr. Lise Vesterlund, an economics professor in the University of Pittsburgh. Much of Vesterlund’s recent research focused on how many promotable and non-promotable tasks that women and men work on during their careers. Non-promotable tasks are trivial assignments that add little value to a person’s career in the long run, but are things that need to get done. The nature of the task varies on the industry, but in an academic career, examples include sitting on university committees, taking notes in meetings, and organizing holiday parties. In a certain university, she found that female professors performed 8.5 hours less research per week than male professors due to their undertaking “non-promotable” tasks.
Through surveys she found that when women consider turning down requests for non-promotable tasks, they focus on the negative career consequences and how people will perceive them, whereas the men evaluate whether or not it’s a good use of their time. As a result, women feel more worn out and worried when making these decisions.
Through a series of experiments that involved clicking a button in groups of three (eliminating the ‘competence’ factor), these three conclusions slapped me across the face:
1. Women volunteer more for non-promotable tasks.
2. People (both men and women) ask women to do more non-promotable tasks.
3. When asked to do a non-promotable task, women are more likely to say yes.
The finding that was most surprising in the experiments was that when no women were present, men stepped up and perform just as well in the group setting. So it’s not like the women were saving the day or anything. Therefore, we should recognize that just because someone says they will and can perform a task does not mean that they should perform the task.
Vesterlund’s research was illuminating and has been the one thing I’ve been preaching to everybody who’s asked me what I learned in this conference.
Vesterlund and a few colleagues have started a “No Club” where they get together once a month over wine, talk about decisions they have to make, and discover what triggers them to say yes to things. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea!

Fran Zone‘s “Smart Out Loud” seminar gave us a taste of what she means when she says: “Don’t do more; be more.” She rejects what she calls “sweat equity.” She gave us tips on how to make a better first impression, how to leave a memory, and how to appear more credible. She encouraged omitting the words “trying” and “hoping” from our vocabulary and instead using “focused on” and “committed to.” Finally, I liked her play on words when she said that women “audition” for roles whereas men act with “audacity.”

One of the final highlights of the conference was the panel of representatives from Chevron, Genentech, HP, Walmart, Silicon Valley Bank, and Oracle. I won’t go into all the details, but I will share the one striking thing I heard in this panel: that we need to recognize when we need help and ask for it. There were several anecdotes of women resigning from their companies because they didn’t see part-time or flexible hours as an option, and didn’t think to ask for it. The companies ended up finding an arrangement that worked for them. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Coming out of the conference, I commit to the following:
– Take more risks to stretch myself, in areas that would improve my career.
– Think more critically about the purpose of every task I’m doing, both in and outside of work, and be less afraid to say ‘no.’
– Recognize when I feel self-doubt and learn to ignore it.
– Pass on what I’ve learned to more of my coworkers and friends, both male and female.
– Bring more people with me to this conference (or a similar one) next year.

Finally, if you want to read more, the keynote speakers in the conference recommended that everybody read the recent article The Confidence Gap. Having read it, what will you change in your life?

Career Advice

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

It all started when I took out a notebook and began taking notes while listening to a career advice talk in a first-year engineer training program with my company. In this living (periodically updated) blog post, I will be collecting career advice I’ve heard people tell me that stuck out to me. It felt selfish to keep all this advice to myself, so I’m sharing them with you. Feel free to offer your own advice in the comments section!

On setting yourself apart from others

  • Either effectively use company resources, or be a resource.
  • Technical curiosity is a great indicator [of potential]. [Seize the] Opportunity to make data-based decisions using principles, data, and calculations.
  • Would you hire a lousy gardener to paint your house?
  • Do more than you are asked without stepping on people’s toes.
  • Competitiveness motivates you to do things for the wrong reasons.
  • People who excel always know what tree to bark up.

On self-development

  • Collect professional articles of interest to you in a folder.
  • Asking good questions is an important skill.
  • The best mentors are people who can identify gaps.

On new opportunities and shaping your career

  • “The best jobs I’ve ever had were the ones that scared me.”
  • Be open to many opportunities early on, then focus.
  • Even if you don’t think you’re qualified for a job you’re interested in, try it out anyway. You will pick it up.
  • If you want to explore something, the sooner the better.

January 1st

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Each year on January 1st, I walk over to the bookstore and pick out a daily planner at 50% off. It’s become an unintentional tradition for me. Above is shown this year’s planner, which I will use mainly at work, and other acquisitions. Yes, you betcha I bought those dove cards at half price!

On a slightly related note, I don’t make new years’ resolutions. Whenever I resolve to do something, I just do it. You should, too!

USC, here I come!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I am starting my master’s education in chemical engineering this fall at USC. The catch? I’ll be working full-time at the same time!

The thought about whether or not I was going to pursue higher education had been stressing me out since before I even graduated from MIT. The “advice” I’d heard from most people was that the longer you wait, the less inclined you are to leave your cozy job. I felt myself falling into the same trap. The longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to find the initiative. I like my current job, and it keeps better and better as I am given more responsibility and complicated plants. I’ve already learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in school, and the master’s classes I’ll be taking will help supplement that knowledge, now that I have a better idea of why the heck they taught us all that stuff in undergrad. It will also put me in a better position should I consider obtaining a PhD in the future. For now it’s all up in the air.

The thought of working and going to school scares me a bit. I barely find time outside of work now; how will I do with grad-level classes added on top of it? Do I continue the weekly choir rehearsals and violin lessons? Do I put off hanging out with friends even more than I do now? Whenever I am faced with these questions, I tell myself, “I had one semester where I took seven MIT classes and had a colorful social/romantic life. If I got through that, I could get through anything!” Seriously, my MIT experience is a reminder that I’m capable of a lot more than I think I can handle.

What does this all mean for you, the reader? I will have even less time to blog! I find, though, that the more I have on my plate, the better I am at managing my time (also, procrastinating). It’s not like I blog often now anyway, so this will probably have a minimal impact on your lives. Phew!

The one thing I can’t wait for is the student discounts for concert tickets again! As a frequent concert-goer, that was the most discouraging thing about being out of school.

MIT Energy Conference Nuggets

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I went to the 6th annual MIT Energy Conference this past month, partly because I had missed Boston, and partly because MIT alumni had a registration discount. Similar to my sustainability conference blog post last year, here’s a smattering of takeaway messages I got out of it.

But first, an image. This was the only picture I snapped all weekend, during the Friday Night Showcase of hundreds of new energy technologies. Naturally, I was drawn to the oil and biofuels panels, but I made my rounds through all the exhibits. The big round thing was some sort of floating wind turbine.

The conference had quite a military focus, which brought in a different perspective for the motivation for innovations in energy. The keynote speaker Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech was particularly striking with the main idea, “Energy is fundamentally an issue of national security.” The most staggering factoid: Every time oil prices increase by $1, the Navy spends an extra $31 million due to the steep cost of transporting and guarding fuel to remote areas like Afghanistan. Therefore, the Navy’s goal is to obtain 50% of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. 17% of the energy is already obtained from nuclear power. Since energy diversity leads to energy security, the military is taking leadership in energy innovation.

One panel discussed the impacts of Obama’s goal of having one million electric vehicles in the U.S. fleet by 2010. The speakers mentioned considerations for Seattle’s electric vehicle infrastructure (70% of charging stations will be residential, there will be 1.4 charging stations per electric vehicle, software integration for finding and/or reserving chargers, etc.). The message that stuck with me from this one was that the increase in electric vehicles is not large enough to require a new power plant until 2/3 of the fleet is electric. The greater concern is around upgrading the local circuits (transformers, etc.).

Another panel that caught my attention was one around upcoming renewable fuels technologies. One company, called Joule Unlimited, is developing energy obtained from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, utilizing alternative metabolic pathways with genetic engineering – the speaker threw out the term “industrial photosynthesis.” Their goal is to derive a closed carbon cycle like how nature intended it to be. Sun Catalytix also sounded confident in displacing fossil fuels with the promise of harnessing energy from water. ARPA-E also funds non-photosynthetic technology for biofuels. All piqued my interest.

The conference itself was very well organized and executed by a team of around a hundred current MIT students. They had even prepared fact sheets for various energy sources and handed them out to each conference attendant, along with a tote bag and a mug. I also ran into two MIT alum friends that work in energy, whom I didn’t know were in Boston, which was a plus!

This blog entry doesn’t really do the conference justice, but the conference did enable me to explore the cutting edge research and development taking place in energy by participating in awesome discussions I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. For instance, I met several people who had worked in oil companies for 20 years before transferring into these interesting start-ups to help develop and scale up the technology. Sounds pretty awesome; I’d be down for that sometime in the future!


Monday, January 17th, 2005

The other day, we made this delicious chicken, thanks to the George Foreman grill that Jonathan’s dad gave him, and my mad marinating skillz. I marinated the chicken in olive oil, oregano, red peppers, and black peppers.

Anyway, there’s two weeks until school starts. Last week I had a UPOP workshop that was every day from 10am to 5pm. I thought it was gonna suck, but it was actually incredibly fun. We had a lot of modules and roleplaying, and learned about things that we didn’t learn in our engineering classes. Basically, we were taught what it’s like to work in industry. UPOP helps us find internships for next summer blah. Anyway, I suddenly have a headache. Bye!

Monday, February 16th, 2004

Buahahhaa.. Look at my starting salary if I major in chemical engineering.. which I probably will, because I like it a lot so far.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty consistent with completion of homework. So far, no huge things are piling up and I’m actually keeping up with all the reading.

Friday night, the Valentine’s Skate that SaveTFP hosted was a blast. Setting it up and stuff was a lot of fun. I didn’t have much time to skate, though, but not like I know how. I’ll learn sometime.

Valentine’s Day was fun, and it was also my “off day” because this past week had been pretty hectic, especially towards the end.

Last night I saw Kill Bill. It was gorier than I (and everyone else) had ever expected it to be.. but it was sooo cool. I can’t wait to see Volume 2.

I’m looking forward to the 4-day week. MIT declared tomorrow to be a Monday, so classes start at noon.

Sunday, February 8th, 2004

Yay! I finished two homework assignments so far this weekend (not including readings). I did a physics problem set yesterday, and something for my chemical engineering class today. We were supposed to pick a chemical processing industry, do research on it and evaluate it; we also had to reflect on whether we’d want to work there, and what we’d be interested in doing. I’d picked Pfizer and it’s such a cool company. I’d definitely work there! Ha. I’m all excited about life now.

Jonathan and I also bought another hamster yesterday. This one is light brown with a white belly, and his name is Dragon. The cage is in my room now! We’ll probably switch off, but hopefully Dragon will live longer than Broodstar. He’s soo cute! He’s sleeping right now, so I’ll take pictures later.

Also, I applied for a desk job at Burton-conner and got it! So I’m gonna be one of those people who sit at the front desk, manage mail, open doors for people, answer questions, etc. I don’t know which shift I have yet; there’s a desk workers’ meeting tonight at 9. Yay! $9.25 an hour baby. Last semester I didn’t know if I wanted to apply or not, but then I regretted it because it looked fun. Woohoo.


Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

If it weren’t the first day of school today, I would have said that I’m having a pretty bad day. I set my alarm too late, I didn’t like the outfit I picked out last night so I had to find another one (which made me more late), I got my khakis all muddy, I took the wrong subway (which made me even later), I got to my orthodontist appointment half an hour late, the subway was really crowded on the way back and so I was 15 minutes late to my first class (but I didn’t miss too much), but as soon as I sat in the classroom and started to listen to the engaging lecture, I was filled with glee. Now I have an hour-long lunchbreak, so I’ll definitely be on time to all the rest of my classes, and I will never be late to another class again. And I changed my pants so nothing is bothering me anymore… I didn’t like that other outfit much anyway.

I’m also kind of intimidated but at the same time very intrigued by chemical engineering. For now I want to work in industry. Our first homework assignment in Intro to Chemical Engineering is pick a company and research it, etc.

Life is great.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2003

Today I went to the course 10 open house, so now I want to major in chemical engineering. If 10b gets accredited, I can get a chemical-biological engineering degree. Sounds exciting, huh? I’m psyched.