Dr. Michelle L. Oyen
Cambridge University, Engineering
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It’s hard to remember! I was set on the idea of being an engineer by the time I was 10 years old. I loved math as a kid, and had a computer quite young (a Commodore 64 by age 7). I was always trying to take my toys apart and figure out how they worked.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Although I’ve had the chance to work on a number of very fun projects, including our tendency to use Lego robots in the lab (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBEtUJmp05w), my own favorite research work involves using engineering to try and study problem pregnancies, particularly in the context of understanding and preventing premature birth. People don’t think of engineering and human reproduction in the same framework, but there are actually a lot of very exciting opportunities in this area.
My favorite early role model is Sophie Germain, who worked in both mathematics and elasticity far before it was easy for women to do so. My other favorite is Lillian Gilbreth, who was one of the early female industrial engineers but also famous from the books “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on their Toes” about raising a large family in the early 20th century.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love knowing that there are so many opportunities for science and engineering to improve the human condition, through biomedicine and biomedical engineering, by using our engineering skills to be better stewards of the environment, and to apply our knowledge to real-world problems facing developing economies.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Be proactive and have a thick skin. I’d love to say that STEM subjects were gender-blind in the 21st century but I don’t think we’re there yet. Amazing change has been taking place since the start of the 20th century, and it’s going to be a few more generations until all of those working in STEM don’t blink when seeing female colleagues in a wide range of roles.
Kindle app. I love having access to so many books (both technical and otherwise) at my fingertips no matter where I am or what hardware I’m using.