Women faculty?

Observing the Asian Deans' Rising Star Women in Engineering Workshop

Cecilia Zhang ☕

Last week, I attended Asian Deans' Forum The Rising Stars Women in Engineering Workshop held in Seoul National University. It was such a great and informative experience that I would recommend to any woman interested in faculty positions around Asia (or even elsewhere).

The workshop is mainly composed of panel sessions and keynotes. There is also a poster session during lunch breaks and a few requested on-site interviews with university deans. This workshop covers a holistic view of a women faculty career, from preparing for the application packages to giving job talks and on-site interviews. There are young faculties who shared their fresh experience and lessons learned, and also senior faculties who talked about their career paths and those unforgettable struggles they had to get through.

Every women faculty, either the keynote speaker or panelist on stage looks confident, elegant, and speaks with an approachable while strong tone. When a participant asks how they handled challenges such as family-work balance and two-body problems, the panelists patiently waited until the questions are finished, and started with compassionate sentences like “I had a similar challenge ...”, or “It would definitely be a hard time ...” and then described how they got over those challenges and how they knew others had handled it in an even better way. I notice that more than half of the speakers, in their speeches, have said, “I was lucky that I got xxx opportunity.” This is a humble way to describe their accomplishments. Every success has some luck in it, but only a prepared mind can grab the opportunity when it comes. Overall, they created a respectful and supportive environment that I felt comfortable speaking out my concerns and asking questions.

I have learned a lot on the technical aspects of applying for a faculty position, such as ‘write follow-up emails after interviews or visits’, ‘be mindful about resume format that need to tailor to different countries’, ‘mention things you care about even if they do not ask because you never know which aspect of you makes you stand out’, etc. In addition, I learned to always look at the positive side of things and at the same time recognize the difficulties. I remember asking how they considered moving to a new country for a faculty position. The women faculty who responded first acknowledged that there would be a language and cultural barrier, but she tended to view it as a learning opportunity and a brand new start, just as discovering a new problem in research that excites you to search for the answer.

They also emphasized ‘being in the moment’. The challenges are there regardless, and you will have to handle it anyway. The only thing you can take control over is yourself -- when you are with your families, do not worry about work; when you prepare for teaching materials, you should spend as much time as you can, as it’s a part of you being a faculty, and you never know when a capable student comes to work with you simply because you have given an inspiring lecture.

What makes this trip even more memorable is meeting and getting to know many great women who are determined to contribute to academia. Listening to all 40+ participants’ 90-second pitch is such an enjoyable and inspiring experience. It gives you full of hope when you see those young scientists and engineers talk about their research with great confidence and expertise and describe how their research impacts the society and human being.

Organization-wise, this is one of the most well-organized workshop I have experienced so far, and the most considerate organizers and volunteers I have met. They have thought about every single detail for you: poster printing, bus scheduling, and having volunteers to walk you in between different buildings, offering campus tour, etc. They also arranged traditional Korean performances given by the university’s art and music department students, and prepared local Korean gifts for every participant. Even the snacks during breaks were all Korean local goods. At the end of the workshop, they gave us a certificate and offered professional photo shooting. The farewell dinner was the most famous Korean fried chicken and beer -- such a wonderful feast to draw a conclusion to an inspiring and memorable experience.


Seoul National University in Fall colors.