Article Photo

Katherine Faber


Article Photo

Cate Brinson

Finding balance

McCormick provides role models for women in engineering

Engineering has long been a male dominated field, but two McCormick professors have taken part in projects aimed at balancing that gender gap. Cate Brinson, Jerome B. Cohen Professor in Engineering, associate chair of the department of mechanical engineering, and professor of materials science and engineering, and Katherine Faber, professor of materials science and engineering, were included in recent books as role models for women considering careers in science and engineering.

Juggling a career and a family life is tough for any working professional, but women in science face a unique set of challenges. From dealing with inflexible research timelines to the demands of publication, funding, teaching, and advising, Brinson and three colleagues offer advice from their experiences in a chapter for the recently published book Success Strategies for Women in Science: A Portable Mentor (Academic Press). “People ask for advice,” she says, “and this chapter was our attempt to put together some strategies that can work.”

For Brinson, work-life balance is a topic she knows well. During her 13 years at Northwestern, Brinson has been an active researcher, teacher, and adviser while raising four children. “It’s really been a juggling act,” she says.

Brinson and her coauthors have each taken different approaches to making their personal and professional lives work together. “One of the things that we came together on is that you have to find your own path,” Brinson says. “There is no one way to do this, and you may have to try a number of things.”

While some choose to work part-time or take time off from their scientific pursuits, Brinson has chosen to take one day at a time to balance her life. “My solution has been to just make it work, to make time for things when you need to make time for them. I try not to overplan.”

There are times, Brinson admits, when she has to compromise to balance the many aspects of her life. In Success Strategies she writes, “While it is very easy to say, ‘Set priorities and accept the compromises,’ it can be very difficult to carry that out. However, it is OK for this to be difficult. It is acceptable to have regrets. You are not alone, it is not debilitating, and you will continue to move forward anyway.”

All of the contributors in the chapter note a shift in attitudes that is gradually creating a more supportive environment for women in science. These changes are likely to affect current and future generations of scientists as they seek a balance between their personal and professional lives, and that’s important because, as Brinson writes, “being happy in your career depends on being happy in your entire life, and vice versa.”

As part of another recent project designed to encourage girls to choose a career in engineering, Katherine Faber was featured in the book Women Engineers: Extraordinary Stories of How They Changed Our World. The book was published by the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project, an outreach program chaired by First Lady Laura Bush.

More than 100 extraordinary women engineers are profiled in the book, which highlights the wide array of opportunities available to someone with an engineering background. Faber’s profile illustrates the variations within a typical day in academia. From teaching to advising student groups to leading university collaborations, Faber serves as an inspiration for young women considering an academic career in engineering.

“The effort to educate potential women engineers is very important to me,” says Faber. “Giving young girls the opportunity to see engineering as a people-oriented profession with countless avenues of specialization helps to overcome stereotypes and develop a strong engineering community.”