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By Megan Cooley

Megan CooleyI recently attended my first WiSTEMM (Women in Science Technology Engineering Medicine Mathematics) luncheon at the Central Exchange in Kansas City, Mo. WiSTEMM offers quarterly events to facilitate networking and professional development for women in the science and technology fields. This group has quite an extensive history in the Kansas City area, dating back to the 1970s. People know all too well that the 70s were a time of great change for women in the workplace. Not only were women continuing to pour into factory positions chiefly dominated by men, but more women were starting to graduate with college degrees in areas other than nursing and education. Women were increasingly moving into the areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The establishment of WiSTEMM gave women in these fields a network to connect with other women in similar careers, offering advice on career development, navigating situations they may encounter in the work environment, and how to deal with those situations in a professional manner.

This luncheon was set up to provide advice to women on how to navigate career transitions, whether that meant starting out, moving into management, or transitioning between diverse fields. The panel of experts facilitating discussion gave their input on how they dealt with career transitions. Here are a few points I thought were worth sharing:

  1. Have a thick skin.
  2. Support each other. Find a mentor that you can go to for professional advice, someone who can help you establish connections. In addition, make sure you have support from your organization/institution. As one of the panelists said, “It doesn’t matter how much you Lean In, if your organization does not support you, you are going to fall in anyway.”
  3. Have a sense of humor. This falls in with having thick skin. An example was what to do when you voice an idea or an opinion at a meeting that gets overlooked, but then when a colleague brings that same idea up later, it draws attention. Women will naturally tend to just sit quietly and assume that next time they suggest something, they will get recognition. That may not happen. Instead, perhaps try inserting a little humor into the situation by, for example, acknowledging that you appreciate that your colleague found your idea so wonderful that they just had to bring it to everyone’s attention again. You be the judge of what’s appropriate for your situation.
  4. Take risks! If you are presented with an opportunity, take it. Risk can often be a motivator for success. I really try to follow this piece of advice. Most of the time I have been really pleased with the risks I have taken. Also, you never know where these opportunities might lead you.
  5. Never be the first to speak during a meeting. Be patient, listen to the discussion, and be thoughtful about what you contribute.

Women have definitely come along way professionally since groups like WiSTEMM started. With that said, it was really nice to hear the perspectives of the women on this panel. This was a great opportunity to network and share our stories.

Megan Cooley, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Her research is focused on understanding the effects of the tumor microenvironment on acquired chemoresistance and metastasis.