Interview with Ms. Jennifer Griffin

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“You can do it. You can do anything that you set your mind to.”

What was your first memorable experience with the sciences?

It probably goes back to before I even started school. My mother’s best friend was a scientist, which was very, very rare. Of course, I didn’t know that it was rare, but my mother told me that she had overcome a lot to to be a scientist. I wanted to be a scientist because at the age of five, the most important person in my life was my mother, and, by convention, I wanted to be like her best friend. Also, she bought me a chemistry set.

Did someone inspire you to pursue a career in STEM? If so, tell us your story.

By the time I was in 9th and 10th grade, I started taking real biology and chemistry classes. My teachers were very engaging. Two of my favorite teachers in 9th grade remained my favorite throughout the rest of my education. [I was fascinated by] how things work, and why they work. Biology came to me, first. Chemistry did not come as naturally to me at the collegiate level, and I found biology more intriguing.

My mother was also an inspiration. I grew up with five brothers, and I was the youngest in the family. Having this woman (my mother’s best friend) be so built up by my mother was a huge influence on me. Knowing when and how I can have the same influence [is wonderful]. I wish that I could have more time to do it. It is just a matter of making it a priority.

What is the most interesting STEM-based project that you have ever worked on?

I’ve really only been involved in one formal opportunity. One of my friends is the principal at a middle school in New Hampshire, and I had the opportunity to go speak there. I spoke about overcoming my fear of math. I walked them through going through a math program, and described my struggles. I also told them about how I had a really good math teacher, who taught me that math isn’t just about memorization.

I treat my career as a passion and a religion. I happen to really love what I do. I am very vocal about getting kids involved in math.

If you could solve any problem that your community, state, or even the world is afflicted with, what would it be? Why?

I think I would encourage a more open-minded approach. I can look next door and see someone, where if they opened their bubble and looked outside, they would see so much more. I watch the news and realize that people are just not listening. If they listened to one another, then they could begin to accept each others’ differences.

And, if I could have any superpower, I’d want to fly.

As a woman in STEM, what obstacles have you overcome in order to be successful?

I am in an industry that has been very much male dominated. About 100% of my female colleagues have left the company due to inability to move up in the organization. They wanted to have a career path, and that just wasn’t possible. There were only a handful of women at work, and in five years, about half of them left. There was some harassment, and many of us were not being promoted. Often times, I had to ask myself, “do I take on that mindset, or do I fight back?” It is a battle, and it will continue to be. It was very tough to have my closest friends saying, “you’ve got to get out of there.” I think that it was important that I grew up with five brothers, because it helped me to go through tough times at work. I think that I had a thicker skin.

Things have improved significantly in the past few years. Different advocates have come in to work with us, which has helped our organization to improve the general atmosphere at work, and to improve our gender ratio.

How would you define success?

I think it comes down to having the ability to keep the enthusiasm and passion for what you do. If you can keep the enthusiasm, I think you’ve done it.

What advice do you have for young women who are up and coming in the world of STEM?

I would say there really isn’t anything that you can’t do. That’s what my mother told me, and I went for it. I overcame a male-dominated workplace. You have to try. The only way to get better at things is to understand your weaknesses and capitalize on them. You can do it. You can do anything that you set your mind to.

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