The 2017 CU Boulder-MIT-Stanford Women in Aerospace Symposium was hosted by the Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder on May 31 and June 1.
Sixteen outstanding women doctoral and post-doctoral researchers in aerospace engineering disciplines participated, representing a variety of academic institutions across the country. Several male and female faculty from aerospace departments at CU, MIT and Stanford - in various stages of their careers - also attended to share their diverse array of perspectives and experiences.
Our goal in facilitating these discussions is that students can create and maintain networks with other women in aerospace, while also beginning to position themselves as successful candidates for faculty positions.
As graduate students just a few years ago, we attended and spoke at the Symposium, so it was particularly meaningful and important for us to be on the other side as faculty members. It was also incredibly inspiring to see the fascinating array of research performed by the participants - in both aeronautics and astronautics. Female graduate students from our department also attended, providing them with exposure to various pathways to academic careers. By meeting these inspiring women, we hope our students will continue to strive for excellence in research - maybe also providing the catalyst to pursue academia themselves!
The Women in Aerospace Symposium commenced with inspiring words from Dean Bobby Braun, highlighting how crucial diversity is to solve large, complex problems from the perspective of his own personal career path. Prof. Jaime Peraire from MIT spoke briefly on the history and success of the WIA Symposium - of the 101 previous participants, 22 women have now transitioned into faculty positions!
The first day highlighted the research from the participants. It was fascinating to hear presentations on the diverse problems these women are solving and the impact they are making in aeronautics and astronautics. Poster sessions also facilitated more detailed discussions between the participants, faculty, and graduate students, offering a chance to discuss methods and results in depth, or alternatively, to learn about a field different from their own.
In the evening, we moved to the mountains in the beautiful Chautauqua Dining Hall, where Prof. Ann Karagozian from UCLA gave her keynote address. Her moving words drew from the advice of her hardworking grandparents. Among the advice, she reminded participants that their education is a treasure that is impossible to lose. Also, as a female taking on a unique role, you will be the metric by which others judge your colleagues. Looking back on our transition from graduate students to junior female faculty members, these words certainly resonated with us and will continue to inspire our efforts to be successful researchers and educators.
On the second day of the Symposium, faculty from MIT, Stanford and CU participated in panel discussions highlighting how to obtain and succeed in academic careers. This portion of the symposium provided useful insights from a diverse group of faculty with a wide variety of career trajectories - including a faculty member who entered academia after working for a few years, teaching faculty, department heads, the dean of engineering, and new assistant professors. It was interesting to see so many faculty following their own unique and nonlinear career paths, demonstrating there are many different local maxima in achieving success in academia!
The Job Search
The first panel, “The Academic Job Search”, featured pre-tenured faculty answering questions and sharing practical advice on strategically planning a job search, constructing academic job documents, interviewing, negotiating job offers, and deciding which offer to accept. It was a great opportunity for these faculty to share their perspectives, both from their own unique experience on the academic job market, and as members of departments conducting a job search.
Once female faculty are recruited into academia, the next big question is how to thrive - and this issue was covered in our second panel, “The Academic Career”. The panel discussed important topics such as balancing the various responsibilities of an assistant professor, creating an interesting career that continues to challenge and excite, and offering a retrospective on the most important and impactful experiences of their careers. Despite their wide variety of backgrounds, it was encouraging that all panelists found value in their experiences and challenges throughout their academic career.
To conclude the symposium, Terri Fiez, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation shared interesting and entertaining stories across her entire career: from student to professor, to department head - at one time even starting a company outside of academia - and now as a key member of the CU administration. She regularly stepped outside of her comfort zone and took on projects or positions that fascinated her, emphasizing the importance of following our passions while in academia.
A theme that emerged regularly during the 2017 Women in Aerospace Symposium was that each person in academia has a unique path leading them to where they are today. We hope our participants can find their path to success in academia, maintain a cohort of future female faculty in aerospace engineering and share their experiences with future female graduate students.
Allie has previously attended the Symposium twice as a graduate student and once as a participant. Natasha has previously attended the Symposium as a participant. Both Allie and Natasha joined CU Boulder in January 2017 and helped organize this year’s Symposium.