3 challenges we face – and how to overcome them



“One of my main concerns after graduation is not necessarily getting a job, but being accepted into the workplace,” said Marlee Kopetsky, a biomedical engineering student specializing in psychology at the University of Montreal. Stevens Institute of Technology.

Marlee Kopetsky is a junior at Stevens Institute of Technology, majoring in biomedical engineering with a specialization in psychology.

Photo: Dana Kopetsky

Women have made strides in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math): they made up 27% of STEM workers in 2019, up from just 8% in 1970, according to a US Census Bureau study. But that does mean that men still make up 73% of all STEM workers.

Many women who are in college and pursuing careers in STEM, like me, share Kopetsky’s concern. While there has been an increase in the number of women in STEM careers, there are still many challenges we face that can make it intimidating when considering a job after college.

Three of the big challenges we face are 1) trust 2) lack of mentorship and 3) understanding our salary.

Many of us feel this, but we must remember that we are not alone and that there are ways to help overcome these challenges.


It is easy to feel a lack of confidence in various contexts. For example, when it comes to understanding material, we can often think that we need to be an expert on a topic to express ourselves, apply for a job, or work on a project.

It’s important to remember that no one is an expert at first. If you have something to contribute, you should say so. Don’t let this fear, this lack of confidence keep you from having an opportunity.

“If you’re a perfectionist like me, starting a new tech project can be intimidating,” said Simona Aksman, senior data scientist at 23andMe. “You may think you need a deep level of expertise to get started. My advice is to focus on creating a small working prototype. Creating something that works, no matter how small, can give you a boost and motivate you to keep going! “

Whenever we feel overwhelmed, breaking it up into smaller pieces can help us build confidence on a certain topic, which will allow us to break that fear, tackle the project, and find new opportunities.

Confidence is the key and something that we can work on step by step to gain it.

It will also be useful if our colleagues are in favor. It’s certainly not easy to be the only woman or one of the few women on a team, especially if you are just starting out in your career. A little support from the team will go a long way!

“I think what we need is encouragement and appreciation,” said Mitsu Patel, a student at Rutgers University majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. “Women should be respected for the work they do and should be appreciated in order to inspire other women to join us and to feel confident.”

Mitsu Patel is a third year student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, majoring in cell biology and neuroscience.

Photo: Mitsu Patel

Trust is not only something that we can work on for ourselves, but also give to those around us to help us support and uplift each other.

Lack of mentorship

Unfortunately, many women in STEM careers don’t feel like they have mentors to ask questions, learn more about their career path, or get advice when they feel lost. There are many women who are first generation students who have no family members in the industry, who know someone who is in the position they would like to be in and who may not have be no support system at all.

The truth is that a mentor can be a teacher, a friend who is pursuing a career, a professional you are connected with on LinkedIn, and just about anyone who can help you better understand what questions you may have about. your career and how to go about it. different situations you may face.

So don’t worry if you don’t know anyone. And don’t wait for someone to assign you a mentor. Contact a teacher, a former student at your school, or someone you met at an industry event or on LinkedIn. Contact several people. You’d be surprised how willing people are to talk to you, give you advice, and help you – if you just ask them.

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Antonia Zaferiou, assistant professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in the biomedical engineering department, said she found support from her teachers when she was in school, so she wants to continue and be a mentor for her students.

“My professors at The Cooper Union inspired me to become a professor who puts student development first. Moreover, right after defending my thesis, I became motivated to mentor doctoral students so that they can finally feel what I was feeling that day: proud of the resilience needed for research and prepared to be an independent scientist. ”

These are things we all want to feel: proud and prepared. A mentor can also help build our confidence level. You feel supported and are more likely to try your luck with something new. Would you go skydiving without a parachute? A mentor can be our parachute, the one who softens the landing when you’re afraid to jump into a new experience, like applying for jobs after college, changing major and that support to ask any questions we may have. .

“The amazing thing about mentoring is that at worst you learn firsthand about these roles, these businesses and the individual stories of how people got there and how other people got there. they know got there, ”said Felicia Rutberg, data scientist at Spotify. . “At best, you develop close relationships where you can ask for advice, CV reviews, connections with people in their network, interview preparation, referrals, etc.”

Rutberg said she found the mentorship to be really helpful for 1) discovery and exposure, 2) counseling, and 3) making connections.

Plus, you can also learn about a new role you’ve never heard of before that looks like something you’d be interested in pursuing. There are many roles in STEM that we may never have heard of before, so this exhibit can allow us to learn more about what is out there, about yourself, and what makes you passionate. A mentor can change your life!

Understanding your salary

Let’s talk about money. Understanding salary can sometimes seem strange. Many of us don’t understand what our salaries should be, especially a first job right out of college.

This is a subject that is not talked about as much as it should be. Women – and especially women of color – have historically been paid less than their male counterparts in many industries. So it’s important to do your research, ask questions, and understand your worth.

“The best advice for students is to do research throughout the interview process,” said Pamela Weinberg, career coach and personal branding strategist.

Research is available, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t know what salary to expect when you go to a job interview. Weinberg recommends sites like www.glassdoor.com for salary information as well as Onet.org, which breaks it down by zip code.

The US Census Bureau has also done good research on the pay ranges of women and men in various STEM fields. Interesting: They studied 70 STEM trades and found that women earn more than men in one field: computer network architects.

Students should also network with alumni in their area of ​​their college – they can help shed light on the type of salary to expect, Weinberg said.

No one said a career in STEM would be easy. But, if we work on challenges like our confidence, finding a mentor (or multiple mentors) and researching our future salaries to know our worth, it will help us take the plunge and build a successful career.

CNBC “College Voices″ Is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money, and launching their careers in these extraordinary times. Sabiha Farheen is a student at LaGuardia Community College and intern with CNBC’s digital product and design team. His mentor is Jennifer liu. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.


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