Photo credit Romulo Ueda

Coffee Break with Geri Richmond

Dr. Richmond answers your questions!

Following An Evening With Geraldine Richmond, audience members sent us additional questions for Dr. Richmond.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not wanting to be a high-level scientist in the field because I feel like I am contributing to the "leaky pipeline" of women in STEM.
Do you have any thoughts on how we as women should feel about contributing to the community if we decide that ultimately we do not want to be a professor at a large institution? Is there value in simply being a teacher in the field and showing that women are in chemistry?

The simple answer is to do what makes you happy and challenges you. Life is too short to spend merely trying to live up to others expectations. Unfortunately, academics often telegraph to their students that the ultimate job is in academia and at a large institution. When in actual fact there are a lot of great careers outside of academia for STEM folks like ourselves. There is a briefing that the National Science Board released last April that celebrates the wide range of careers available for STEM graduates. Many of these career choices also have few women so you would be filling up a pipeline in any direction that you go.  Vive la Difference!

How do you juggle being a mom, a scientist and the leader of COACh? It seems like there just aren't enough hours in a week to do it all!  

Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. When you first get started you learn how to juggle a couple of things. Then the kids come and that adds a few more balls. Then opportunities arise like COACh that give you a few more balls to juggle, but you are getting better at this with experience, just like any good juggler. The trick is to remember which balls are fragile glass that you do not want to drop (the kids, husband, family). Those that you must keep in the air to keep your day job. And those that if you drop them, you might have been better off without them. Some of those that I have dropped actually bounced back in later years when I had more time for them. But the killer for this strategy is to be a perfectionist because it will drive you crazy when you drop a ball. 

What keeps you motivated? 

Fear of boredom. I love new adventures (science or otherwise) and I hate being bored. I love meeting new people and learning about how different organizations run. I actually love a day where my interactions and projects are incredibly diverse. And to think that I might be able to make a difference in people’s lives or a project's success.

Knowing what you do now, what advice would you give yourself as a young student? 

What do I wish I had known then that I know now?

  1. Assess and value all of your strengths.  Although it might seem at a younger stage of your education and career that success is measured by how many equations you can solve or intricate scientific concepts you can understand, a successful career today in STEM takes much more than that. Value yourself and build your communications skills; value and build friendships and networks and recognize the importance of the words “Thank you.”
  2. Never make a hard life decision when you are not feeling very confident. Always make a life-changing decision when you are at the top of your game.  Otherwise, you will undervalue your worth and opportunities for the future.
  3. Be willing to take risks. Confidence is more quickly built when you succeed at things outside of your comfort zone. It builds much more slowly when you continue to do the same thing over and over again.

If you were starting your career tomorrow, where would you go and what would you do?  

  1. I’d spend more time reading Dr. Seuss books like "Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Rather than waiting to read them with my young kids.
  2. Whatever I would do it would have to involved teaching in some capacity – and not necessarily just in the ivory tower of a University.
  3. For the “where” part, I would look for opportunities to be involved in global activities
  4. And finally, I’d try to find another husband like mine who laughs at my jokes and is a great friend and father.

Want to learn more from Geri? Take a look at our memorable evening with Dr. Richmond and Dr. Jo Handelsman: