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Over 130 alumni from across the Society for Science & the Public’s middle school and high school science competitions gathered for a brunch reception and panel discussion during this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search.
Moderated by Society President & CEO Maya Ajmera (1985 STS), the panel was comprised of science professionals and Society alumni, including: Erika Angle (1999 STS; 1997 ISEF), Michelle Hackman (2011 STS), and Sara Sakowitz (2014 STS; 2014 ISEF).
Ajmera kicked off the event by asking the successful women panelists about the myriad challenges young scientists face when entering the professional world.
Hackman, a health policy reporter for the Wall Street Journal, admitted that in pursuing a career in science, some scientists second-guess themselves, resenting the long, seemingly thankless lab hours when they could pursue a job with more “shine.” But, she explained, those same scientists working behind the scenes are the ones putting together the puzzle pieces of the world. And in that respect, science is glamorous, she said.
The panelists were then asked to share what advice they would give to their 17-year-old selves.
“It’s not wrong to be different!” said Sakowitz, a sophomore at Columbia University who founded Blue Moon Box. Though she struggled with having different interests from her peers, being introduced to fellow competitors at Intel STS assured Sakowitz she was “home.”
Ajmera invited the panel to envision what they hoped for in the twilight of their careers.
Angle, who founded Science from Scientists, encouraged the audience to ask themselves, “What impact did I have? What legacy did I leave behind?” She hopes her company and its mission to help children in grades 4-8 develop a passion for math and science, live beyond her. “Even if you help one person,” she reflected, “you’ve already made a difference.”
During the audience Q&A, 2016 Broadcom MASTERS alumna and first place winner Eleanor Sigrest asked the panelists about their support systems.
They expressed unanimous agreement about the value of family and peer support in their professional development. Angle’s father taught her how to communicate science to non-science professionals while Sakowitz explained the encouragement she received from having two parents with science backgrounds.
Hackman shared her background as a first generation Iranian American, how her parents had fled the Iranian Revolution, and had little experience with science fairs. Yet, while working with her mother to complete her STS project, Hackman was surprised and grateful because while her mother did not understand the research, her willingness to learn and help made all the difference.
The panelists’ stories and advice surely inspired the younger generations to pursue a career in STEM. Ajmera was ecstatic to see the diversity among the panelists and the audience, encouraging everyone to continue breaking barriers. Though a career path in STEM is not always easy or straightforward, it can be both rewarding and momentous, especially when you have a great team behind you.
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