Ask yourself, “If not you, then who?”: Advice to girls from NASA’s top female engineers

Anything is possible.
Anything is possible.
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This year was the 15th anniversary of the best day you’ve never heard of: Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. The event was launched in 2001, when the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) teamed up with IBM to educate young girls about the career opportunities in engineering and embolden them to pursue it. The special occasion is part of Engineers Week, a weeklong celebration of the industry started by the NSPE back in 1951.

Today, women are still underrepresented in the engineering field: only about 14% of the engineering workforce in the US are women, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee (pdf, page 5). To celebrate the day this year (which fell on Feb. 15), the folks at the NASA Langley Research Center asked some of their female engineers for their advice to young girls interested in the profession. Here are some of their best answers.

On resilience:

“Know you are going to fail at things like everyone else does. It’s ok. When you do, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. If you are making the grade and keeping up with your cohort, keep your confidence up accordingly!”Angela Harrivel, aviation safety engineer

On not feeling like you have to speak for every single woman out there:

“Do not think you have to explain every woman’s choices, actions or behavior. You only have to answer for yourself. Explore what you like and probably more importantly, deliberately explore some areas you think you do not like. You may find some good surprises.” —Susan Gorton, head of NASA’s Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology project

On knowing there’s a spot for you at the table:

“Best advice I was given is to always ask yourself when confronted with that opportunity or a challenge, if not you then who? I believe that engineers have a responsibility to make things better if they can, and that is hard to do if you (always) sit quietly on the side.” —Jill Marlowe, NASA Langley Research Directorate lead

On taking risks:

“Don’t set your expectations low. A lot of women are over qualified for the job they apply for so they miss out on a lot of opportunities they could have been great at because they believe they are not ready. Take a few risks with your career and you will be surprised where you end up. In every case, when I took a career risk, it was for the better for me.” —Rosemary Baize, NASA Langley Science Directorate associate director of advanced planning and technology

On tuning out the critics:

“I would advise young engineers to never let anyone tell you ‘you can’t’ do something. You may be told you ‘think wrong,’ or you “aren’t good enough,” but you are the only one who can stop you. Thinking different changes the world. We must embrace the difference.” —Carrie Rhoades, flight systems engineer