Joyce W. Yen
Program/Research Manager, ADVANCE Program, University of
A mathematical background is a great springboard for variety of careers. I was first attracted to mathematics because of the patterns and structure found in foundational subjects. As I explored mathematics more deeply, I came to appreciate how much more there is to mathematics. Indeed, mathematics is a creative field which fosters reasoning and logic skills and encourages tenacity and curiosity. These skills and perspectives come in handy no matter what career path one takes or what problems one encounters.
In graduate school, I changed from pure mathematics to operations research, which uses mathematical models to help guide decision making in a wide array of applications (airline crew scheduling, telecommunications network design, breast cancer screening, organ transplant allocation, security detector location, etc.) and uses mathematical insights to improve everyday systems, both complex and simple. It’s a field that has probably touched and improved each of our lives in ways we don’t even realize, for example getting that online purchase to your door in the most efficient manner possible.
After graduate school, I began a career as a professor in Industrial Engineering at the University of Washington (UW) but eventually switched careers. A key motivation for my career change was my interest in the experiences and challenges of women in science and engineering. I decided that I could have a larger impact by working on the issues of women in science and engineering more directly.
Thus I’m now the Program/Research Manager for the University of Washington’s ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change. This program, which was originally funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, supports the participation and advancement of women faculty in science and engineering. I design activities and resources which support faculty, particularly women faculty, and which encourage and advocate a welcoming and supportive academic culture. My personal experiences as a woman in science and engineering provide a valuable perspective. Another aspect of my position is writing proposals to fund new activities and projects whose general aims are to provide resources to faculty and students to foster success in science and engineering and to create an environment in which everyone, and particularly women and other underrepresented people, can thrive.
Through my work with ADVANCE and from my own experience, I believe it’s important for all students, and girls and young women in particular, to know that they can be great mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. Great resources exist to help support you in your success. If you can’t find these resources, keep asking around to find someone who can help you get access to these resources. Women can and are just as great mathematicians, scientists, and engineers as men. Some times, though, women and people from underrepresented groups experience subtle cues that seem to indicate that they do not belong in these fields. We all belong in these fields and when one has those feelings, it’s important to seek out mentors and other supporters who can and will validate your experiences and your talents.
Even with this career change, I still use my mathematical problem solving skills on a daily basis to find creative solutions. Having strong analytical and logical skills is an asset no matter what one’s career is. Moreover, having a technical background allows me to better understand the perspectives and experiences of my primary audiences and helps me more successfully communicate with science and engineering faculty. My mathematical background is excellent foundation on which to build my career.