#BBBinSTEM: From “Odd Woman Out” to “In the Spotlight”
“It might be hard to admit you need help from someone, but it can help make a huge difference in how you handle burnout.”
~ Amber Lenon
By Mallory Molina
Last week, Dr. Shine Chang joined us on our episode of #VanguardSTEM, which focused explored the theme Burnout, Bravery and Being a Woman of Color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (WOC in STEM). The topic resonated with many, so we decided to reach out to you, our audience, to gather and share more of your reactions, thoughts and personal stories on the topic. Over the next three weeks, I’ll introduce you to three women who volunteered to share their stories.
This week, meet Amber Lenon, a first-year graduate student at West Virginia University (WVU) who worked on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) during the second gravitational wave detection.
Being A WoC in STEM
Lenon originally began her college career as a graphic design major at Cazenovia College. When she switched to physics, she also transferred schools to Syracuse University and completed her Bachelor’s of Science in Physics in three years.
When talking about her support system, and being a woman of color in STEM at Syracuse, Lenon explained, “In high school, I always felt more of the odd woman out. Once I got to Syracuse, I surrounded myself with people who saw me as a friend or colleague rather than only seeing my skin color.” She started to build her own network of support, which included her research advisor to help ground herself.
While she was learning to adjust to her new surroundings, she also had to deal with a very demanding course load: “Multiple people told me that the fall semester [of my last year] would be difficult because of the classes I was taking. I thought I was prepared, but by the time I got to that semester, I could feel the strain catching up to me.”
She started to experience classic signs of burnout, and began sleeping less and working more. She kept going until she “felt like [she] just didn’t want to do anything.” Lenon did graduate, and the first night home, she slept for ten hours straight. She spent the rest of the summer resting.
During her time at Syracuse, Lenon was involved with the LIGO experiment, which is a laser detector that uses light waves to search for gravitational waves. She was working as a student there when the second detection of gravitational waves was announced. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight at all,” Lenon said, reflecting on that time. “But once LIGO made their announcement, I was forced into the spotlight.”
On the day of the announcement, she had three television interviews and one phone interview. During one of those interviews, she was asked what it was like to be a woman and a woman of color in a male-dominated field. Lenon bravely spoke in all four interviews. Even though this was a difficult time, she loves her work there. Lenon will continue doing work with LIGO as a graduate student at WVU.
One of the main points from the show that resonated with Lenon was the importance of being vigilant and realizing when something is wrong. “It might be hard to admit you need help from someone, but admitting that something is wrong and that you need help can make a huge difference in how you handle burnout,” she concluded. Lenon makes the point that knowing something is wrong and fixing it is okay.
From Lenon’s standpoint (and #VanguardSTEM agrees!), bravery is asking for help when you know you need it. It isn’t shameful to do so! You deserve to be in a good space emotionally, physically and mentally as you continue forward in your STEM careers—make time to find ways to escape, relax and enjoy life outside of STEM. After all, as Dr. Chang discussed, sometime less work means more productive work in the long run.
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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