As Gail wrote in her post last month, she, Svetlana and I were fortunate to be able to attend the 2010 CRA-W Grad Cohort held in Seattle. Read her post for a great summary of the sessions that were available to us, ranging from find a research topic to just being a woman in technology.
While I found these sessions excellent, my epiphany was a feeling of greater belonging and confidence in being a woman in the science and technology community. It helped me experience first hand how critical support organizations such as WISE can be.
To tell you the absolute truth, even as a member of CU-WISE, I had been a little skeptical of the need for women-only organizations within science and engineering. Coming from an Engineering background, at some point, I had let myself become used to the fact that there were just few other women in the area.
So imagine what it was like for me to walk into a room full of 200-300 women, who not only shared similar academic and career aspirations but also had to operate as a minority in their respective worlds? For the first time in a long time in my life, gender was the great leveler instead of the great divider, and that really made all the difference! It was a refreshing and exhilarating feeling and the instant camaraderie that I felt with those women in that instant is indescribable.
The next three days were, at their core, a reaffirmation and celebration (there's a reason why they call Grace Hopper a Celebration of Women in Computing) of WISE women, what they have and can achieve. It was a unique confidence building experience because it reminded me that
i) I don't need to fit in - I have much to offer just as I am
ii) We can be each other's best supporters, being there when someone needs that extra confidence booster
This event drove home for me the difference that having female mentors, peers, role models and supporters makes for those in the science and engineering field. It has shown me that, although the female-minority situation that I work and study in is not normal, groups such as CU-WISE can provide the sense of empowerment, belonging and support that can help me achieve better equilibrium.
I came away from the conference having a better appreciation for the gaps that organizations such as CU-WISE fill in their local university communities and hope to do my part to support my fellow WISE women.