"There have always been highly capable women wanting to be scientists." Rita Colwell, PhD
Guest Blogger: Caitlin Meyer the Science and Technology Policy Lady
October 13, 2021
Sorry for the delay in updating my blog! It is midterm season and the last two weeks have been incredibly busy.
Today I invited Caitlin Meyer also known as the Science and Technology Policy Lady on Instagram to be a guest blogger!
Caitlin's Advice to future graduate students or those interested in a career in science is this:
"Don't be afraid to lean into mistakes. This is a critical and necessary component of a successful education. Most grad school students are perfectionists to some extent (myself included), so be ready to change that narrative. Once you let go of that part of you, the fun can finally begin because your idea of success has changed for the better."
Starting a PhD is signing up for the beginning of a long marathon – only you aren’t given a map of the race course, and it often seems like you have circled back to the starting point, having no idea where the finish line is. I think most people who have started a PhD can relate to this, even those with supportive sponsors, which I am grateful to say I have. My PhD journey is a bit different from most – I have lived in Asia off and on for about ten years now (originally from Washington state in America), and Shenyang, China (沈阳中国) has been my home for the past five years. This is where I consider home with my husband, who is from Egypt, and our two cats. I graduated with my MBA from Northeastern University, and while graduating in the class of 2020 had its challenges, starting a PhD at the same university during the year of 2020 in China was less stress than most places in the world in terms of handling the pandemic. Due to the strict handling of the pandemic throughout China, while most (if not all) classes were still being held virtually at our university, Shenyang was open and active once COVID cases were eradicated from the city. However, it wasn’t unlike a dystopian dreamscape – masks were required everywhere, temperatures were taken upon entering buildings, and we checked in with our university everyday to maintain our health status. When we ordered food to be delivered to our apartment, we could even check the delivery person’s temperature. A small price to pay for what we have now, a year later, which is complete normalcy (unless a case pops up in our city, in which the strict regulations will begin again). We are fortunate enough to not even have a mask mandate anymore.
It was still a confusing time to be alive, academically or otherwise, and all the feelings that normally accompany a PhD journey (especially in the beginning) of feeling lost and scared, with imposter syndrome always chasing at the heels, were exacerbated by the pandemic, being separated from loved ones in my native country, the feeling of isolation that accompanies a PhD, and struggling to express myself in Chinese. I was also finding my new identity as a student on a journey that was solely my own. As a woman with a PhD focus on gender equality issues in science and technology policy, I was eager to connect with other women and nonbinary individuals in STEM and politics, both of the sectors that science and technology policy consists of, to cultivate friendships and build a supportive network. I decided to try social media platforms, and while I have been met with resistance from some hiding behind a keyboard, deciding to create an academic profile on Instagram has been one of the best decisions I have made regarding feeling supported and reciprocating support during my PhD. While a PhD can be lonely business, it doesn’t have to be, and I have been able to connect with so many lovely people already in the past year alone with similar paths. One thing 2020 reminded me was how we all have so much more in common than we do differences and it helped erase my hesitancy to branch out more to meet new people, through social media or otherwise.
As I move into my second year of my PhD, I feel more confident and finally feel as though I have my bearings moving forward. I have spent the summer working on an eight-episode science communication series revolving around my PhD focus – what science and technology policy is, why it is important, and how having a more inclusive science and technology policy sector, with an emphasis on more women, benefits us all. My goal is to share the importance of this sector and highlight its gender equality issues without being too overwhelming. These multi-faceted, complex issues can easily become overbearing, especially in a world that is facing so many heavy issues. While I may not have a map of the race course, I think I’ve started over enough times that I can follow my own foot prints to know which mistakes not to make again, and enjoy the view on the journey to the finish line, wherever that may be.