What I Learned From a Group of Undergrad Science Students

I was recently asked to sit on a panel at Ryerson University for the RySciMatch program geared towards undergraduate science students. There were five other panelists, all from varying backgrounds with quite interesting personal stories about their career trajectories. I went into this event expecting to speak about my blog and the importance of mentorship for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Though I did speak to those items, communicating with the students filled me with nostalgia and a renewed energy and sense of purpose. I had to dig deeper than expected for certain questions to uncover the real reasons I had made certain decisions in my life and I found this to be both empowering and enlightening.


The moderator, Dr. Bryan Koivisto, speaking to the panelists

One question stood out for me because it forced me to really examine my own motivations. I was asked if there was a moment in my career when it became clear what I wanted to do – my ‘eureka’ moment. This was the moment when I realized that I wanted to veer away from academia, but sitting on the panel presented a moment when I began to learn even more about myself and how I could help the eager students staring back at me. I found myself embracing my love of science, field work, innovative research, and engaging with the community to share my experiences and knowledge. There were so many important lessons learnt and insights generated from the evenings’ panel discussion that I left with real excitement about the possibilities that lay ahead.


Roshanak Pashang and Micheline Khan listening to Alice Yang speak

I had a few young women come to speak to me after the event about a piece of advice I gave to everyone. The moderator, Dr. Bryan Koivisto, asked each of us, “What advice would you give to your second year self?” The moment he asked, I knew I wanted to stress that the students should network as much as possible. If you do not go seeking information or engaging different individuals, you may not even be aware of the different career paths that could be explored. Of course, since I was second to last to give my response, “putting yourself out there” was already mentioned when the mic came to me. Luckily, I knew immediately what advice would resonate with this group of students and especially the young women sitting across me. I said,

“Speak confidently about your successes”


Brag a bit…because how are we supposed to know how great you are if you won’t tell us?! This is a bit of advice I received while talking to a friend, @SamanthaZY last year, who’s a big advocate for women working in STEM fields. Developing your communications skills is key and knowing how to express yourself without going over the top is even more important. Many of the wonderful young women I spoke to after the event seemed to feel too shy or were reticent to share their achievements in spite of the fact that it would open them up to incredible new opportunities. They wanted to know what specifically they could say to share their successes without sounding too boastful or self-absorbed. We spoke for quite some time and it helped remind me that I should continue to do the same in my life. Be unapologetic about your success. There are times when we are too passive in our classrooms, in our workplaces and in life, in general. We need to become engaged in all levels in order to get what we want and deserve.