Real-life scientists discuss their work, share advice with students interested in pursuing STEM careers
Be kind and show up every day.
That’s the advice Erin Webb, an agricultural engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory gave to young people during ORAU’s second STEM Stories event on Thursday, April 20. STEM Stories gives students interested in STEM careers the opportunity to learn from and interact with scientists working in the region.
Webb works in bioenergy, specifically focused on finding solutions for transporting and storing large quantities of biomass like feedstocks for commercial use so it can be converted to energy. She was joined by Jibo Sanyal, a computer scientist at ORNL whose work focuses on geo-computing, which he described as using computers to solve problems like long-term weather concerns, the resilience of environments and more.
Webb told the 30 students and their parents gathered for the event that while STEM careers are all about math and science, they should never forget to factor in the people they work with. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“I thought I could pick engineering and it would be all about machines and I wouldn’t really have to work with people. I was very naïve and completely wrong,” Webb said. “The mentors I’ve had and the teammates that I have are very important. My advice is to be kind.”
Sanyal, whose team uses the TITAN supercomputer, underscored the importance of working with other people. Collaboration allows for fresh thinking and new ideas.
“We work with scientists all over the world,” he said. “I know some things but I don’t know everything, so I need to work with other people.”
Webb also stressed the importance of showing up every day, no matter how difficult the work might be.
“For girls especially I’ve found that if you have a hard math class, if you have a difficult test, that girls think they’re not cut out for it, that math and science are abilities that you either have or you don’t,” Webb said.
Girls need to understand what boys seem to know instinctively: “If you show up the next day, keep working and keep going, everything works out,” Webb said. “(Math and science are) not about ability. It’s not innate. It really is about hard work, and it is possible to work to the next level.”
This story and photos were submitted by Michael Holtz of ORAU.
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