Life Lessons from a Former Engineering Major
For the final installment of this year’s lunch speaker series, Dr. Tanea Reed, an award-winning biochemistry researcher and professor, talked to our students both about her own path to a career in research and education and about the divergent paths their professional lives are likely to take.
Dr. Reed started by outlining the trajectory of her dreams. The first dream, to be Wonder Woman, she achieved at the tender age of 6, thanks to Halloween. The other dreams did not come so swiftly, nor were they static.
From gymnastics to ice dancing, and then from engineer, to astronaut, and to chemical researcher, Dr. Reed’s goals shifted as she gained new information, both about her fields and about her own enjoyment of the possibilities she entertained. Her advice to students trying to figure out what they might want to study or pursue was to look and apply for any opportunities to try out something they had an interest in. From enrichment programs to internships or service opportunities, she let students know that when you give something a try, it’s completely fine to realize that you don’t connect with it in a way you’d imagined.
The same goes for traditional education. As someone who jumped at the opportunity to work in her field directly after getting her undergraduate degree, Dr. Reed urged girls to consider real-life applications as relevant to their ultimate goals. “You don’t have to go straight to school. You don’t have to do everything in a straight line—it’s okay to take a different path.” This goes for scientific pursuits as well. Surgeons, engineers, and chemists can all find benefits to time outside of school to get the perspective they need to engage with their dreams meaningfully, making connections along the way.
Early in her career, Dr. Reed stood out in her field as a female biochemist. As for feeling reluctant to be a trailblazer, she urged students, “You can’t be afraid to be the first.” If something seems out of reach for lack of precedent, all the more reason to break that barrier. In terms of reaching for opportunities that feel out of reach, she passed along clear advice for anyone feeling like they don’t yet have what it takes for a program, scholarship, or job opportunity. “You should always be willing to take a chance. You may think you’re not qualified for something, but Apply. Apply, and apply again.”
Dr. Reed ended her presentation by answering student questions, talking a bit about how many students a professor teaches at a time at the university level (it varies based on the university), how realistic she thinks medical and crime procedural shows are (not very), and how much school you have to attend to get your doctorate (“A lot, but it’s worth it.”).
The essential message for our girls from Dr. Reed was clear. There are no shortcuts to self-discovery, and there is no fast track to figuring out fulfillment. “You’ll find your path to whatever your passion is through trial and error.”