One of my greatest high school regrets is that I never took an auto shop class. I would have had a chance to learn some practical skills like changing oil and changing a tire. At the time, I doubt it fit into my schedule, but entering a class of mostly boys scared me as well. It’s not that I was afraid of boys—I considered myself a feminist despite not fully understanding what that meant—but it would still have been intimidating to walk into a classroom full of dudes.
Raburn said she liked being a gender minority most of the time in school because she did well in most of her classes and had a more generous scholarship than most of her male peers. “I felt I was representing well for my gender, both during my Ph.D. and post-doc,” she says. Batchelder’s choice of career combines her passions: She decided on Civil Engineering initially because she liked “building things and was good at math,” and chose the environmental track after her involvement with environmental activism. In graduate school, the majority of Batchelder’s classmates happened to be women but all of the professors were male. “It was difficult. In part because grad school is difficult, but also having male professors was challenging,” she says. Batchelder recalls a classmate complaining that when she told her advisor she needed to finish her PhD in four years so that she could begin having children, he replied that he had children while he was getting his PhD—and failed to recognize that he had a stay at home wife.
Batchelder now works at a company with a majority of women, and two male bosses. “I usually find myself as the only female engineer at meetings, even though on a daily basis I interact with women regularly,” she says.
So what have they learned? Here are six nuggets of wisdom:
1. Make friends with your colleagues, both male and female. Your network is your biggest asset. Seriously. This might not seem the case now, but it really matters who your friends are in your field.
2. Learn to take criticism well—consider the validity of the feedback without getting too wrapped up in emotion.