Working in a male-dominated field

Hi Melinda,

Firstly I just want to say that your story has been very inspirational to me and I'm sure it is influential for many, many more bright young women looking to pursue engineering degrees.

My cousin has been constantly trying to dissuade me from pursuing engineering, especially electrical engineering because he happens to be a manager at an electrical power plant, and he quite frankly has told me he doesn't see me as the type of person to be working in such "man-dominated" environment. What I'm not too sure about is whether I would be able to either. I mean, when I think of becoming an electrical engineer I think about working on designing phones/computers/circuits/etc...exciting things that don't involve working at power plants.

Is becoming an electrical engineer really just mostly about working at a power plant with no innovative liberties?

Any kind of feedback is greatly appreciated,
Thank you!!
posted by Tanima, California on March 11, 2013

Answer by Melinda Piket-May

Hi Tanima, 

Electrical engineering is so much more than power plants!  You can study almost anything with an engineering degree and I highly recommend you explore it.  It can vary depending on what school you choose to attend, but to be relevant in today’s economy an engineering degree is very valuable.  I study electromagnetics with computers.  You have probably studied them a bit in physics but I solve the equations computationally and show beautiful visualizations of the electric and magnetic fields that help people understand the design projects they are doing.  We model everything from an integrated chip package to a fighter jet…. there is so much to learn.    In my department alone there are people studying all sorts of things.  One person uses signal processing to restore old paintings, some work in optics (a very exciting field with lots of applications), we study wind turbines and solar power cells to make them more efficient.  My freshman study Arduino microcontrollers to design products for people in the community with special needs.   You can really make a difference in our world with engineering.  It took me a while to figure that out as you can tell from my story.  

It is not only power plants!  There is tons of innovation in all the above topics.  Working on phones/computers/circuits can also be very exciting and innovative.  Especially the field of programming cell phones! It is hard for me to imagine something I cannot relate to electrical engineering, that is why I think it is such an exciting field.  You can work with material scientists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, and all other fields of engineering just to name a few options.   My daughter is even combining environmental engineering and anthropology!

I really hope you continue to explore electrical engineering as an option.  You have the right idea and the right attitude.  Your uncle is correct that it is male dominated field – however what a good reason to be a women studying it, we need to change the world :)!   Look at electrical engineering programs at colleges you are looking at, and look at the professors research areas.  I am sure you will find something that makes you feel like you are a good fit in electrical engineering (maybe even research that a female professor is doing).  There are 5 female professors in my department.   We have support for women engineering, there is the Society of Women Engineers and the Women in Engineering program. 

I also want to mention that if you don’t get directly into an engineering school  don’t let that stop you.  You can go to a good community college for your first two years of college and then transfer in (making sure the community college has ties to engineering schools). 

I wish you the best in your coming adventures and hope someday I hear about this amazing electrical engineering student – you!

Please feel free to ask me any additional questions.