Defining our way

Last week, I attended the Defining Our Way Conference for junior women faculty sponsored by VCU and organized by the VCU School of Engineering (thanks to Jennifer Wayne). I have participated in many programs for women faculty members, but this was by far the best, and many of the topics would have been just as interesting to male faculty and non-academic researchers. But I have to admit that atmosphere would have been noticeably different if men attended the conference–all conference attendees and most speakers were women (with the exception of Dean Russell Jamison who was one of the sponsors).

Here are a few of the most interesting parts of the conference:

  • Ellen Daniell, PhD, (author of Every Other Thursday) gave the keynote lecture, an intimate and honest talk about support networks for academic women. Best of all, she attended the rest of the conference to interact with the attendees, and I can assure you, we picked her brain every chance we got.
  • Sara Laschever (author of Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It) gave a wonderful seminar on negotiation for women. She revealed some startling facts about differences between the genders. The most startling was that men negotiate four times more frequently than women.
  • There are really only two keys for time management: (1) Do less and (2) Do it faster. Thanks to Janice Cuny, PhD, for a great seminar. She also recommended a few resources for women in academia.
  • I had an opportunity to chat with Dr. Russell Jamison about The da Vinci Center at the VCU College of Engineering, which provides industrial, collaborative projects for engineering, business, and art students. The projects were much more difficult and collaborative than I experienced through capstone senior design projects. Apparently the art students frequently made the most contributions up front since they are used to being critiqued, working with their hands (such as drawing prototypes), and thinking about the big picture. The engineers frequently got side-tracked trying to coming up with overly technical approaches that addressed a small part of the project (like optimizing one small aspect of the project) while losing track of the bigger picture. I found this a little sad, since I am an engineer. But engineers are taught many technical tools, and if you give someone a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Modeling courses eventually set me straight on figuring out how to address the big picture while focusing most carefully on a few aspects of the problem. More on this later. But this makes me want to have a few art students in my classes.

One response to “Defining our way

  • Aurelie

    I loved advice #3 – “do less or do it faster”. So true! It took me a while to come to that same conclusion. I found item #4 very interesting too, especially since twenty-first-century engineers are supposed to be “creative problem-solvers” rather than “guideline-following technical staff”.

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