Last Thursday I did an interview with some women in a qualitative research methods course. They were looking to identify things that help or hurt a woman's self-efficacy in a graduate program in engineering. We had about an hour to talk and I tried to help identify what helped me and what didn't. It's difficult to pinpoint really, and I certainly don't feel like anything that helped me was specific for helping women.
One of the interviewers asked me a very good question though. Almost an hour had passed and we had been talking about various classes, research experiences, and mentor interactions I had over the past 5 years. So then she asked, It seems you have persisted through some ups and downs. Why? What has helped you persist?
This is such a good question. Why do some of us stick around for so many years and others of us do not? First and foremost, I have had amazing support. My advisors and mentors at both schools (and all places in between) have been incredibly generous and inspirational. With full conviction and without exaggeration I can say that I would not be here without them. But that's another question-- I was asked, "Why did you stay?" not "Why didn't you leave?"
All I could say is that I love to learn. I'm doing it for me now, to learn new things every day. I just want to know. I want to see how it all works out. I remembered the times I spent banging my head against my discrete stochastic processes book or fighting (literally) through a proof with my peers until we got it right. Or way back at Rice when I worked daily with Violeta and Steve as the design and implementation of our algorithm continually informed one another. Or that moment in the first spring when I arrived at UW, when how to do the proof of the math extra credit question just popped into my head three weeks after it was due, and I spent until midnight nailing down all the details.
Now I should get back to work and see if I still persist after the next two weeks-- I'm working toward a paper deadline!