Lily Croskey-Englert / Sun Staff Photographer

Professors speak about the obstacles women face in STEM at a panel discussion hosted by WICC Tuesday.

May 2, 2017

Profs Unmask Challenges for Women in STEM

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Four Cornell professors discussed the educational challenges and difficult life decisions they faced as women in the technology field at a panel hosted by Women In Computing at Cornell on Tuesday.

Prof. Christina Delimitrou, electrical and computer engineering, discussed her background growing up in Greece and studying math and physics.

She emphasized that rather than filling quantitative quotas for gender, the goal for engineering should be that “everybody that wants to do it and can do it has no obstacles.”

Prof. Kirsten Petersen, electrical and computer engineering, reflected on her path from being one of the only girls in her engineering program in Denmark to completing a Ph.D. at Harvard.

“Falling in love will be the worst career move you will make,” Petersen joked.

For Prof. Eva Tardos, information science, striking the balance between work and family was simplified when Cornell offered positions to both her and her husband through a dual career program. She added, however, that being in a relationship had put her in a difficult position in advancing her career.

“If you want to become a faculty [at Cornell] and your spouse wants to work for a big company, then unfortunately you can’t do that here,” Tardos said. “It’s a compromise.”

Prof. Anne Bracy, computer science, outlined her journey as one of the few women throughout her studies at Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania and her position at Intel and added that defending her Ph.D. dissertation while eight months pregnant was one of her most challenging experiences.

The professors also commented on the clear differences in confidence between males and females.

Nearly all boys who receive an A- in Computer Science 1110: Introduction to Computing Using Python continue with the major while girls who get an A- are much more likely to drop the major, according to Tardos.

“That has no reflection on how well you will do in the major, yet girls tend to back off,” she said.

“You reach for the stars and if you fail, so what? You learn something,” Peterson added.

Avani Bhargava ’20, co-director of WICC Mentorship, appreciated the opportunity to learn from female professors who are leaders in their fields and hear about their individual paths.

“They all had mentors who helped guide them to becoming successful, and the importance of serving as both a mentee and mentor to others resonated with me,” Bhargava said.

According to Caitlin Stanton ’20, director of WICC Faculty Relations, less than 20 percent of computer science graduates are female.

“We want to make an encouraging environment for underrepresented minorities, primarily women, in the tech sphere,” Stanton said.

Stanton added that she chose professors with diverse backgrounds in different areas for the panel to provide attendees with a complete picture of what it means to be a woman in STEM.

“I really wanted them to not all answer the questions the same way, ” Stanton said. “I hope that [attendees] saw that they don’t have to fit the stereotypical mold to be successful and they are going to be able to overcome obstacles they will face.”