Monday, December 10, 2012

Finals…Stressful and Fun?

It seems like just yesterday the semester had just begun.  The excitement of the new semester has not even seemed to fade just yet, and now all of a sudden it is finals time.  Finals period is both a relaxed and stressful time.  You find yourself with so much to do, but also you have so much free time since classes are over.  The key is to utilize this time to the fullest extent so that finals can be both fun and productive.  There is so much you can do to make your finals experience a better one.  First off the key is to begin studying early.  Do not wait until the night before the exam to start looking over the material.  If you do not feel rushed to learn everything, you will find learning the material easier.  Similarly no matter the class make a cheat sheet for the exam.  Some professors allow them for test day, but even if you professor doesn’t just the process of making one and studying from it will help so much in narrowing down the important things to know for a class.  Also if you can form study groups to study for your exams, it is always better to go over the information with other people so you can at least talk about the topics out loud.  

An important thing to remember, you should not be studying nonstop during finals week.  Take time to relax.  Taking breaks from studying is okay, it will actually make you more productive in the long run.  Most organizations on campus organize some sort of study break event during finals.  Take advantage of all the free food they are giving out and attend some of these events.  Just remember to limit yourself to a few set breaks, so you do not find yourself spending more of your day at study breaks than actually studying.  If you set out a good schedule for yourself, your finals time can also be fun. 
A few last things to remember: 
1)      Get a good night’s sleep before all exams; it will be more helpful than studying for a few more hours
2)      Eat breakfast the morning of exams, especially those in the mornings, you do not want to take an exam on an empty stomach
3)      Finally, don’t forget after exams is break, no school for almost 3 whole weeks!

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

SWE Society Conference

Penn SWE chapter attendees enjoying a tasty dinner in Houston!

Earlier this month, Penn’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) branch attended the Society of Women Engineers Society Conference in Houston. Penn SWE traditionally sends its board and a subset of general body members to this annual conference each year to help represent Region E and Penn Engineering. 

National Conventions are a great way for SWE sections to network with one another and learn about upcoming National events. A plethora of workshops are hosted throughout the convention that cater to all academic and professional levels. 

This year, Penn’s new SWE Graduate section hosted a workshop to teach other schools how to begin their own Graduate level SWE organizations across the nation. Furthermore, students flock to the conference for the expansive career fair. Companies in all industry disciplines recruit members for their internship and full time employment programs. 

Of course, Penn SWE made sure to explore the surrounding city during our visit including enjoying some of the region’s famous BBQ. In sum, Penn SWE felt its trip to this year’s Society Conference was very successful. We look forward to implementing some new organization and recruitment strategies learned from other school branches in our upcoming semester at Penn.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mutter Museum trip!

On a Saturday morning last month, AWE led an exciting trip to the Mutter Museum in Center City! For those of you who don't know, the Mutter Museum is an extraordinary museum of medical history ran by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The Museum aims to introduce the public to the mysteries and beauty of human anatomy while highlighting the history of diagnosis and disease treatment.

While we had a relatively small group attend this outing, we all had a lot of fun and were awed by the exhibits and displays within the museum. Whether you are a health related major or not, the museum offered interesting insight into seemingly medieval medical techniques and their vast contrast from modern methods. We were astounded by how much our current medical practices have advanced over time, and are quite grateful for those advancements we might add!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Women engineers don't stay in academia. Why should we care?

One important issue beyond the problem of retaining female students in engineering  that AWE is designed to combat, is that of keeping women engineers and scientists engaged in teaching and research once they exit the academic pipeline.  At a Penn Society of Women Engineers lecture I attended at Penn last spring, one senior professor commented that despite the fact that the graduate students body in her program is usually more than 50% female, far more male students were taking academic positions, or staying in engineering at all.  What's more, she lamented, though her department had made sustained and targeted efforts to recruit female faculty, national searches for female candidates often came up empty.  The alumni choosing academia gender balance is even less favorable in disciplines like electrical engineering and physics, which have tremendous difficulty attracting female students, much less encouraging graduate students to stay in the "tower.

Why women aren't applying for academic jobs -- popular theories are that women disproportionately shoulder family responsibilities, are less willing to endure the 6+ years of relatively low pay and labor needed to win tenure, and are less open to relocate to far-flung labs and universities as they get older -- is a complex question beyond the scope of this post.  A more immediate question is why we should care that women aren't even applying to positions in academia, especially if they are interested enough to earn an engineering degree in the first place?  Two big reasons come to mind.

 Anecdotally speaking, sometimes all it takes is the presence of one female faculty member in a program to encourage women to tackle a graduate degree or an undergraduate thesis, which in turn helps achieve a self-sustaining critical mass of female students through generations of class cohorts.  In one specific sub-field of physics, every tenure-track female faculty member teaching that discipline at any US university is a doctoral or postdoctoral alumna of the same graduate group at Stanford, which is helmed by a woman.  I doubt it's coincidence.  Whatever fear or disinclination is keeping women from technical PhDs seems to be assuaged by giving them female mentors and role models.  Therefore, a woman who graduates from a gender-balanced program at Penn who takes an academic position at a more malignant program could make a real difference in chipping away at the imbalance at another university.

Having women on the faculty could enhance the overall faculty experience as well.  There is a body of research on the benefits workplace diversity that suggests a diverse workplace is often happier, more productive, and better equipped to solve collective problems.  In most universities, the science and engineering faculties are hotbeds of collaborative activity, as professors' expertise is non-overlapping and funding agencies are more likely to fund grants written by multiple professors.  The composition of the faculty clearly has broad ramifications.  Introducing female faculty to male-dominated environments , and enriching departments with the voices of women and other minorities, could have palpable effects on the faculty experience, which inevitably trickles down to students.

Whether you're a science or engineering graduate student, an undergraduate, or high school student flirting with the idea of one day doing science or engineering for a living, the presence or absence of women academics in your midst will likely affect you in some way.  Possibly subconsciously.  How having women around is important, and why we as women are less likely to want to make a living teaching or researching what we are devoting years of our lives to studying, are questions worth keeping in the back of our minds of about as we go about our academic lives.

Shaudi is a PhD candidate in Electrical and Systems Engineering.  Questions for Shaudi?  e-mail her at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SWE Society Conference

Society of Women Engineers is an international organization that was founded on the premise of promoting women in engineering both in academia and the professional arena. Every year, the organization holds a Society-wide conference where members from all around the world congregate to participate in workshops, networking, social events, and career fairs. This year the conference will be held in Houston TX.

I've been lucky enough to attend the Society conference for the past 2 years. My sophomore year it was held in Orlando, Florida, and last year's conference was in Chicago. As a sophomore with little to no experience at career fairs, the SWE career fair was definitely an eye-opening experience. Over 150 companies attend the career fair, and all of them are there for the sole purpose of promoting themselves to women engineers. It's pretty amazing. I got to meet so many professional members working at amazing companies. Being at Penn is a great environment, that I forget sometimes that it isn't a perfect microcosm of the world. And the recruiters are mostly women engineers and they want to tell you their story, they want to help you find a company that would be a great fit for you.

The workshops I've attended have also been very helpful. There are ones tailor-made for college students - Is Grad School a Good Option? How do I Find and Internship? - but there are also ones targeted towards women at any point in their careers - How do I brand Myself? Networking 101. At these workshops, you get the chance to hear women tell their story, give their advice, ad you have a chance to meet other students and workers who have the same problems, same worries, and same goals as you. And a lot of the time they have suggestions that you've never considered before.

Finally, Society conference has always been a great way for me to get to know people better - people from Penn. Usually only SWE board members attend, but we are trying to expand so that we can fund more people. It's a great social environment. In Orlando, we went to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. In Chicago, we went out for a late night meal of deep dish pizza after walking on the boardwalk and riding a ferris wheel. I talked to upperclassmen and got advice about how to talk to recruiters, how to interview, they even critiqued my resume.

If you've never been to a conference, it really is a mind blowing experience. I've never seen so many engineers in one place. When someone tells a math joke, everyone laughs. When people talk about problem sets and crazy team projects, everyone can relate. It's an amazing opportunity to get to talk to other college students and working engineers. Anyone interested can find out more and register at the SWE website!

Have questions for Melissa about SWE?  Contact her at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grace Hopper Conference Part 2

I was also lucky enough to be awarded a Facebook scholarship to attend Grace Hopper—in fact, there were three girls from Penn, so we really represented! My whole experience at Grace Hopper was great, but I’ll pick up right where the last post left off.

My morning on Thursday was early, jam-packed, and quite full of delicious food.  I started off by going to a breakfast with Yahoo! where two Yahoo-ers who talked passionately about their projects.   Next I headed to the inspiring Keynote given by Nora Denzel.  From there I went straight to breakfast #2, this one for the Facebook scholars.  This event was particularly special, as Facebook had just achieved their billionth user, and we got to join in the celebrations.  The rest of Thursday was spent attending sessions, perusing the career fair, and even doing a few interviews.  One memorable session was “How to Get There:  Secrets for Success, in the Style of GLEE”.  It was definitely a popular session—I barely got in before it filled up—and for good reason.  The presenter gave us 10 all-important tips, presented with relevant song clips.  My personal favorite was “Be Prepared” from the Lion King.

All of the Facebook scholars were given the option to interview with Facebook while at the conference, and Friday was the day of my highly anticipated interview.  I spent the morning prepping:  doing practice problems, going over data structures, etc.  I was a little terrified, but felt better once I was introduced to my interviewer—I had met her two nights before at our Facebook dinner/mixer, and she was really nice!  The extra boost of confidence helped a lot going in, and the interview went well.  Friday night was the conference’s grand finale:  a party hosted by Google and Microsoft at the science museum.  All of us there were geeks, so of course we had a blast.  I watched a 3D IMAX movie about the sea, and saw some crazy fish.  Then, after some heartfelt speeches and prize giveaways, we had a beautiful dessert buffet.  The night ended with a Planetarium show.

This was my first time attending the conference; I’d applied for scholarships in past years, but never before received one.  When I got my congratulatory email from Facebook, I was so excited—I could hardly believe it was real!  Now I can say that Grace Hopper was even better than I was expecting.  I hope the conference continues to grow so even more girls can have exciting and empowering experiences like mine.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A conference report....

Scholarship Winners @ Facebook offices before heading to Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper
For those of you who don't know, there is a conference that takes place every year called the "Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing." It's a little bit of a mouth full, but nonetheless an amazing opportunity.

I've had the good fortune of winning a scholarship this year to attend the conference. A resume submission and 2 short essays later, I received an email from a Facebook recruiter titled "Congratulations!" The scholarship includes a two days of networking/ mentoring workshops and tech talks at the Facebook NY office prior to the conference, a food stipend, travel and lodging accommodations, and of course, registration for the conference.

My time in NYC was amazing. Sunday night a bus picked up all of the scholarship recipients to go see Mama Mia! on broadway. It was an awesome night, I have been to the city over a dozen times, but never seen a broadway show.

Monday: Facebook in the big apple
We had scheduled events starting at 9am. It wouldn't be a complete NY experience without Lox & Bagel for breakfast, so that's exactly what Facebook provided. We ate and chatted, and slowly woke up. The next few hours were filled with tech talks, mentoring workshops, and interview workshops. After those were all said and done, we were given boxed lunches and given a generous 5 hours of free time before attending a mixer at the Facebook office catered by a Bravo TV chef.

Tuesday: trip to baltimore
We once again woke up early, this time at 8am (I'm starting to see a trend) to get on a charter bus to drive to Baltimore for the conference.  I would say 80% of the girls (and women) passed out on the bus from the early hours, and the packed schedule the day prior. After we arrived in Baltimore, the rest of the day was free time.

Wednesday: the start of the conference
Registration began at 7am, which is the earliest to date that we've had to get up. My sister and I decided to sleep in and register later to avoid the early-bird lines. This was a mistake, because it turned out most people had the exact same idea as us. After we were finally able to get our name tags (and giant bag of swag I might add), we started going to workshops. Workshops such as "Finding your dream job," "Graduate school survival skills," and "how to influence without authority and why it is important" led by leading women in the industry, filled the day. There are several breaks of course, complete with snacks and coffee.

In addition to the workshops, the conference comes jam packed with a career fair with more than 40 companies in attendance, mentoring sessions, special dinners with companies, and interviews onsite with most companies.  I'm sitting on one of the many comfortable couches scattered around the convention center, waiting for the next round of workshops to begin. As I look around me, I see a lot of girls just like me, with their laptops coding or watching videos, and others just chatting-- and it makes me smile. I can't wait to see what the rest of the conference has to offer.

Regardless of what major you are, I highly recommend that you attend a relevant conference at some point. It's a great opportunity to meet people who share your passions, play hooky (I mean take a break) from school, and have a lot of fun!

Want to know more about Grace Hopper?  Contact us at

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Five Year Anniversary to AWE!

Five years ago today I walked into the School of Engineering and Applied Science here at Penn for the first time to start the Advancing Women in Engineering (AWE) program.  I'll admit I was nervous, excited and completely unsure of what was waiting for me.  The first days of AWE were filled with a head spinning array of meetings, ideas and research.  What were other schools doing?  How should I be spending my time?  What were our priorities?  While I had started initiatives and events before, never on this scale had I tried to build something from the ground up.  I was excited to plan something for the future and spent much of those early months talking with students, faculty and staff about what they thought AWE should be.

Since then I am proud to say that AWE offers over 40 programs a year including social and academic programs for current students, outreach to middle school and high school students, trainings for teachers and guidance counselors, and events for prospective students.  Just looking at my calendar for today is a testament to how far we have come - over the course of the day I will meet with a prospective woman engineer, talk over plans for the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference with 2 of the 10 students we're taking to the conference this year, serve as the walk-in advisor for students, and talk to an alum about her plans for the future.  Its all in a day's work now of AWE! 

Sometimes in the day to day of keeping up with e-mail, returning phone calls, planning programs, and going to meetings its easy to forget how far we have come since Oct 1, 2007.  I recently had lunch with 2 alums who were some of the first students I met when AWE started and got to hear about all the amazing things they are doing at their engineering jobs today.  Both of them talked about being one of only a few women in their roles and how much they miss the women engineering community we were able to create here at Penn.  It was a great reminder to me how important a program like AWE is and how proud I am to be part of it.

So happy fifth anniversary AWE!  May there be many more in the future!

Michele Grab is the Director of the Advancing Women in Engineering program.  Contact her at for more information about AWE.

Friday, September 28, 2012

You can do it!

“I became an engineer because everyone told me I couldn’t do it.”

My jaw dropped, and my eyes nearly ejected out of my head. 

“What!?” I said, in disbelief. “They told you what?!” 

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting several bright and interesting female undergrads in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program here at Penn. We had all been brought together as a part of the AWE/SWE mentoring program, and as our conversation evolved through the evening, we began discussing why we had all decided to become engineers. That’s when this exchange happened.

A sophomore in CBE, this student told us that in her native country of Mexico, girls are discouraged from pursuing engineering. People suggested to her that, instead, she should try for a more feminine profession– the example she cited with nursing. She also then proceeded to tell us that when that didn’t work, people started telling her she was much too pretty to be an engineer and that her looks were much more fitting for a career in, say, dancing. 

I was in complete and utter shock. I honestly do not know where I would be today if I hadn’t had the wonderful female role models in the math and sciences to tell me that I could and would go far with my technical abilities. I have no doubt in my mind that I owe at least 50% of my success to those women in my life who believed in me and told me so. And considering I started off in the semi-ghettos of Queens, NY and am now beginning my third year in an engineering PhD program here at Penn with an NSF fellowship and two published scientific papers under my belt… let’s just say I owe them a lot

And hearing what I heard last Thursday night, I might even say that I owe them everything.
With that said, I’d like to take this opportunity to say to every female reading this right now, that you can do it. I know how difficult it can be and how intimidating it feels to be one of the only girls in the room (I was one of two girls in my PhD class of about 12 or 13 people), but I also know that success as a female engineer is possible. And let me tell you, it feels prettyyyy awesome to make it through and be able represent. 

So keep your heads high, ladies - don’t let the numbers or any ridiculous talk intimidate you. You can beat the odds. I did, she did, and so can you. 

Questions for Melissa?  Contact her at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yes, You Can Study Abroad as an Engineer and You Should!

Making life long Aussie friends
Having just come back to Penn from a year studying overseas, I’ve been getting a lot of “Welcome backs!” and “Where have you been?” It’s good to be back at Penn, but it was also great to be a way for a while. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. I spent this past year studying in Australia and had an absolute blast and a half. Not only did I get to experience a new university culture and make new friends from all over the world, I got to travel A LOT. Some highlights of my time in Australia included: watching a kangaroo eat risotto while camping, picking up a lot of weird lingo and pronunciations, taking field trips for classes to weird/disgusting/cool places, and making some lifelong Aussie friends.

Studying in another country is an amazing experience, and I’d love for as many other Penn engineers to take advantage of the opportunity. Many engineers don’t study abroad for a variety of reasons especially the strict requirements of our degree. If you’re worried about requirements, I have a few recommendations to help you get where you’re going:

Me at a rendering plant--where they turn animal waste into usable products-- one of the more disgusting field trips

  1. Don’t be afraid of your requirements! Engineering curriculum is pretty standard the world over and you can likely find classes at other institutions that match up with those at Penn. If you are doing a degree with very specific requirements for each semester, start a dialogue with your professors to see if classes you will be taking abroad will match up with their classes. Professors are more than happy to look over syllabi and give you course recommendations.  
  2.  Talk to upperclassmen about their experiences. Certain places lend themselves to engineering students. Find out where they studied and what classes they were able to take. If there is already a precedent in place, it’s usually much easier to get credit for a class.  
  3.   If you know early on in your Penn career that you want to go abroad (I’m looking at you, freshman) save up free electives and non-engineering electives so that you have more flexibility in what you can take while abroad.
  4. Talk to the folks at Penn Abroad. They are a valuable resource and can help steer you to places where Penn engineers have had success in the past.
  5.  Most importantly immerse yourself in the local culture, meet new people and have fun! This is your opportunity to go somewhere you never thought you would, to try new things, and to break out of the Penn bubble, at least for a semester.

Kangaroos love risotto!
Questions for Annie about study abroad?  Contact her at if you have any questions about studying abroad.