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1. What’s your education background?I attended Virginia Polytech Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech. Go Hokies! There I majored in Industrial and Systems Engineering with a minor in Business, ultimately graduating with a Bachelor of Science.
2. Did you apply for or obtain any scholarships?Unfortunately, I did not obtain any college scholarships nor, sadly, did I apply for any. When I was applying to college, it was the year 2000. While Fastweb did exist at that time, I wasn’t aware of it and the internet was just becoming popular. At that time, everyone had dial up internet, which by today’s standards would be unbearable to use. How I wish I had a time machine! Maybe an aspiring STEM student can build one because, if I could go back in time, I would absolutely put the effort into finding and applying to scholarships that I qualified for – especially knowing what I do now in terms of how many college scholarships for women in STEM and STEM field college scholarships and internships are out there. It’s worth the effort: A few hours of my time would have been totally worth getting free money for school!
3. Did you have any internships and what did you learn from them?I did have internships during the summer following both my college junior and college senior years at a company called Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). I was on a team that was building a data model for a US Army program called Future Combat Systems. I interned with the same team both summers and it served as a really good introduction to data architecture, which also turned out to be an important knowledge base for my job today! One of the most important things I learned that summer was that it’s ok not to know something and to not be afraid to ask for help. There were times during my internship when I had no clue what I was doing and I felt like some things were way over my head. There are plenty of internships and fellowships for women in STEM out there and I would definitely recommended obtaining one to gain job experience in the field.
4. How would you describe your current job in layman’s terms? What does a typical work day look like for you?As the Senior Director Business Analytics and Strategy, my job is to analyze data to make decisions, solve problems, improve our products, and drive revenue. On a typical work day, I wear many hats because I work on a fairly small team. There really isn’t a day where I’m doing the same thing as the day before. However, my goal for everyday remains unchanged, which is to use data to help key stakeholders make better decisions about our business and improve our product offering. Whether I am doing an analysis for an advertising client on one of their campaigns, digging into our analytics tools to analyze performance of a particular marketing channel, running A/B tests to try to improve one of our products, developing product ideas based on data, or building business intelligence dashboards for management, all of the tasks I work on are targeting the same goal. Additionally, while it might seem like this job only exists in 100 Excel spreadsheets at a time, there are actually a number of tools I use to do this job - Google Analytics, Tableau, relational database management systems like Oracle and MS SQL Server, Optimizely - to name a few.
5. What do you love most about your job?I love problem solving which my job and, typically, all STEM careers allow you to do on a daily basis. I also love being able to see the impact of my efforts.
6. What advice do you have for students going into STEM fields?First and foremost, I’d make sure you have a passion for some aspect related to STEM. Most kids don’t know what they want to be when they grow up but you generally know what you love and what you don’t. So, essentially, I’d say to make sure you’re doing it because you WANT to not because someone told you that you should. Also, when you’re in school (and the same is true for life) try not to get discouraged if you feel like you aren’t catching on as fast as others. STEM subjects are not easy and certain classes will just take longer to grasp the material. I went from a D to getting perfect scores on every test in my Dynamics class, because one day, it just clicked. Finally, be open to exploring other options within STEM once you are in school as you may learn as you take classes that you want to go in a slightly different direction then you’d thought. I originally went to school pretty set on being a Civil Engineer and wanting to build bridges, but I ended up taking a different path and am very happy that I did.
7. What specific advice do you have for females going into the field?There are times when you will feel like an imposter. Push through it – you belong. I remember walking into my first Engineering class in college and being one of three women and my teacher was a male. It was weird and I immediately questioned if I belonged there. Also, find a mentor or a community of people to support you. Your mentor doesn’t have to be female – in fact most of mine have actually been men, but find someone will support and guide you wherever you are in your career path.
8. What qualities should students thinking about pursuing a STEM career have in order to be successful?Curiosity. Being curious is one of the top qualities you have to have to be successful in this type of job. For my role in particular, I am rarely given specific direction and instead have to be curious enough to dive into data to find insights. Often times, I don’t even know I am looking for. Curiosity is how innovation happens and people in STEM careers are at the forefront of innovation. Creative Problem Solving Abilities. Your STEM classes will teach you many of these skills but you should be the type who feels the drive to solve problems in the first place. Perseverance . Go into it knowing that your STEM classes will be difficult. You will need to study a lot. You may even fail a test or two (I did!). When you get into the workforce, you will face challenges that may seem impossible. Just. Keep. Going. Know your strengths. One of the reasons I went into this field is I knew I enjoyed things like math and logistical problem solving. People have different strengths and that’s okay. For example, I knew I never wanted anything to do with English or grammar. Those subjects are not my forte and I don’t enjoy them – but give me a logic puzzle to work through and I’m excited about it. Stay knowledgeable and always keep educating yourself. I constantly have to keep up with new tools and new technologies in order to do my job well. It’s important to be familiar with and aware of which tools to use even if you haven’t had the opportunity to use them yet.
9. What’s it like being a successful woman in a male-dominated field? Any advice?I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky in the sense that, while I have a degree in a male dominated field, I’ve worked on teams that are pretty evenly split in terms of gender. I also feel fortunate that the men I’ve worked with have been respectful of my knowledge and expertise. Certainly, there are often times where I’m in meetings where I am the only female, but I don’t know that I’ve experienced major challenges specifically related to being a woman versus challenges related to differing personalities. I will say that I have become much more direct and assertive when communicating. This is something that I’ve found to be critical, especially when speaking with men. Not in a rude or mean way, but in a way that displays confidence. Also, it may sound stereotypical of genders, but I’ve learned that there are different ways to bond with men and women in the workplace. It’s not true for everyone, but switching these approaches based on the gender of the person you’re trying to work with does come into play at times. As an example, while I know there are plenty of females out there who love College Basketball, I just don’t. And when it comes time to fill out a bracket for March Madness, there are plenty of other things I’d rather do with my time (cycling, eating peanut butter, watching Game of Thrones to name a few). However, I’ve filled out a bracket many times because it’s an easy way to build relationships with many of my male colleagues. And building those relationships has a direct positive impact on how well we work together.
10. What do you think the solution is to get more females in STEM fields?Exposure! First, I think it’s vital that students begin learning about and experiencing STEM at a young age in ways that make it FUN! For me, that happened in 6th grade when I got to leave class once a week to go do logic puzzles with other kids. (By “do,” I mean racing them to see who finished first.) Secondly, STEM is a cross disciplinary field and can lead to all sorts of career paths but I think we need to do a better job of showing students what those are and give real world examples. You could work at Snapchat developing face filters, at Spotify as a data scientist analyzing music and the listeners’ behavior or as a food scientist creating new recipes! Finally, I believe it’s important to introduce female students to real women in STEM so that young women can envision themselves in that field. I’m happy and honored to be one of those women and hope that there are at least a few females out there that can picture themselves in my place so that they keep pursuing this path. Do you have a question for our woman in STEM? Email to ask Allison your question today.
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