Thank you so much!
This has been another one of those pinch-me moments in my journey. I find myself asking, “Is this really happening? Did I just win one of the most prestigious awards for engineering?”
And the reason I say that is I never thought of myself as the “science and engineering type” when I was a little girl. I just wanted to help people and improve lives and make the world a better place.
And now I know, based on much research that is out there, that it’s pretty typical for young girls to have these kinds of “communal goals.” Decades later I saw it in my daughter, too. No surprise, as a young girl, I naturally gravitated to fields where this contextual pull is strong, and with STEM careers I couldn’t easily make that connection.
What I did have is very strong parental guidance regarding engineering education, but I didn’t get into the hometown engineering institute, the very campus of which I grew up on. At the time, it wasn’t common for girls from my town to leave home for an education.
It’s thanks to my progressive parents, I ended up at Regional Engineering College Trichy, thousands of miles from home in another part of India, and became one of the very few girls who left home and that too for an engineering education.
I worked hard, which is something I have always done. That is something in my control, the effort I put into everything I do. Long story short, I ended up in the U.S. for graduate school, at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. Let’s go, Tech!
I started my master’s program there, the only woman in our lab, but that was not in the forefront for me. By that time, I think deep down I had already accepted that in many ways I was blazing a trail, in a largely male-centric field. But what I did encounter was a strong sense of what I now know is something many women and underrepresented minorities often feel, a “communal goal incongruity” if you will. And as a result, I made the very scary decision at the time to switch fields for my Ph.D. In some ways, I was starting over but inspired by something I could build a context around, centered around my mindset. Fortunately, I had an amazing advisor and very collaborative lab mates who helped me along the way.
I then got a job offer from 3M after a summer internship there. It was in a completely different area from my doctoral work, but by that time, somewhere deep down I guess I also knew that my communal goal mindset would guide me to learn and grow and contribute. I accepted.
I ended up in this culture of innovation at 3M where empowerment and collaboration were embedded in the structural systems, integrated in the procedural elements, and woven into the cultural fabric itself. I had wonderful peers and amazing bosses, who shaped me and were willing to be shaped by me. I realized that I may not have had a specific expertise, but I had the knack for identifying the problems to solve and developing context around them, keeping a communal mindset, to inform, influence, inspire, and then collaborate with people to solve them. It was what I call the art of applying science to life.
Don’t let pervasive stereotypes about what science is, what scientists do and who enters, persists, and excels, deter you. I am a living example — we need a communal mindset and we need diversity of thought and experiences to solve the problems we face, as humanity.
And I have been very successful in both communal and agentic goals in my career, in fact, beyond my imagination. So now, in my role as 3M’s first-ever chief science advocate, I take this message wherever I go.
Everyone can be the “science and engineering type.” Don’t let pervasive stereotypes about what science is, what scientists do and who enters, persists, and excels, deter you. I am a living example — we need a communal mindset and we need diversity of thought and experiences to solve the problems we face, as humanity. And the reason I share this today is also because I meet many young folks who are stressed about planning and orchestrating each, and every step, of their journey. I want to say it will work out. Remember it’s not just your education, but what are you learning; it’s not just your vision of some destination, it’s your exposure, your engagement and your experiences along the way that may end up defining you. It certainly did for me … and here I am today.
So, I dedicate this award, to my parents: my dad, a trailblazing engineer in his own right, and the reason both my brother and I are engineers, and my mom, who always quoted lines that instilled in us that the objective of our journey is not to find a destination but to keep forging a path where none exists.
And to my incredible and supportive husband, my kids, or should I say freshly minted adults who keep it “real.” And to all my gurus and my extended family and friends, spread over many continents, who have been cheerleaders for me along the way.
And of course, everyone at 3M.
And to all the girls who want to change the world and solve real problems that matter, this is for you. We need more people with communal goals and aspirations in STEM than ever before with all the sustainability challenges we have ahead of us.
To all the young women who wonder if they should consider STEM or leave STEM because humanities may feel more intuitive, this is for you.
I have given you my “schpiel” … mark my words the real shtick is SHTEM, Science Humanities Technology Engineering and Math. So, bring that much-needed mindset.
For all the professional women in STEM or those poised to start and are wondering if they can succeed in a corporate career, this is for you. Let me tell you, you can change the rubrics; you must alter the metrics and you will transform the optics.
Thank you again, Society of Women Engineers. It’s #2020, the year of reckoning — I say it’s time for women to lead in engineering our society.
The Heart of Science
A new book by 2020 SWE Achievement Award recipient, Jayshree Seth, Ph.D.
SWE’s 2020 Achievement Award recipient, Jayshree Seth, Ph.D., has written The Heart of Science: Engineering Footprints, Fingerprints, & Imprints, a book that explores big ideas through a collection of insights, reflections, and tips gleaned from her successful corporate career in research and development.
In the book, Dr. Seth explores the relationship between society and science and engineering, offering her unique perspective on topics surrounding advocacy, interdisciplinary contexts, thoughtful leadership, and inclusive progress. She also draws from her childhood experiences, and those of her children, as source material on the lessons she has learned during her career journey.
Published by the Society of Women Engineers, The Heart of Science was launched in a live video session during WE20. In the video, Dr. Seth and SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting, CAE, discuss the book, including what inspires Dr. Seth, especially during these challenging times, and what led her to publish her career advice for women in STEM. The live discussion can be found in the on-demand section of the virtual auditorium.
The book is available in both paperback and ebook formats and can be purchased at https://amzn.to/3ieyQDk.
All proceeds from the book will go to the Jayshree Seth Scholarship for Women of Color in STEM, to be administered by the Society of Women Engineers. The scholarship is designed to help underrepresented minorities advance in STEM education and professions related to engineering and technology. It will be awarded annually to support a woman pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in a STEM field.