Diversity and Determination: Professor Li’s Impact in STEM

Welcome to our interview with Professor Li, an accomplished academic in the field of electrical engineering and industrial engineering. Professor Li’s journey in STEM began in China, where she pursued her undergraduate studies in electrical engineering. Seeking further opportunities, she moved to the United States and earned her master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester. However, her passion for statistics led her to switch her focus to a PhD in statistics at Virginia Tech.

After completing her doctorate, Professor Li worked as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Statistics before finally joining Iowa State University’s Industrial Engineering Department in 2018. Join us as we explore her inspiring journey in academia and her valuable contributions to the field of engineering.

In my conversation with Professor Li shared the challenges she faced as a female student in a male-dominated field during her undergraduate years. Being the only female student in her cohort at the beginning, she felt isolated and struggled with some hands-on experiments. However, she resiliently overcame these obstacles by changing cohorts, finding support among other female students, and forming study groups to enhance her learning experience. Professor Li’s journey exemplifies the importance of seeking camaraderie and support in overcoming challenges and succeeding in academia.

Dr. Li touched upon the representation of women in the field of engineering, especially in higher education and professional careers. While the undergraduate ratio of female students appears relatively higher, the numbers gradually decrease as one progresses to graduate studies and faculty positions. Professor Li emphasizes that gender differences in interests and family responsibilities contribute to this trend, with many women facing challenges while balancing career aspirations and family obligations. As she candidly shares her personal experience of recovery after childbirth, Professor Li sheds light on the realities that impact the representation of women in STEM fields.

“For undergraduate students, maybe in general, there are 30% of female students. And then as you move higher in education, the ratio is decreasing.”

Professor Li

The disparity in gender representation becomes evident as women advance in their academic and professional journeys, with a noticeable decline in the number of female students pursuing higher education and tenure-track faculty positions. This observation highlights the need for continued efforts to promote gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering and STEM fields, ensuring that more women are encouraged to pursue careers and excel in these domains.

“The biggest challenge for females is especially when they go to their career, they’re at the age of having children, taking care of their family, etc. I think that’s very challenging for most females.”

Professor Li

Professor Li sheds light on her current research endeavors in the field of industrial engineering, focusing on quality-related studies in advanced manufacturing, particularly in areas like 3D printing. Her work also extends to healthcare data analytics, utilizing the vast amount of data collected in hospitals to aid healthcare practitioners in decision-making and resource allocation. Through her research, Professor Li strives to enhance manufacturing processes, product quality, and healthcare outcomes.

Professor Li, she shares valuable advice for aspiring Asian women entering the STEM field: “Do not give up.” Drawing from her own experiences, she emphasizes the importance of perseverance, even during challenging times. Despite facing doubts and difficulties along her academic journey, the encouragement from friends, family, and mentors kept her going. Professor Li’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative impact of determination and resilience in achieving one’s goals, making her an inspiring role model for aspiring women in STEM.

In conclusion, Professor Nancy Li’s journey in STEM is a testament to the power of determination and the importance of mentorship in overcoming challenges. As a female academic in traditionally male-dominated fields, she has faced isolation and gender differences, but her unwavering perseverance and support from mentors have propelled her forward. For a more comprehensive insight into Professor Li’s inspiring journey, we invite you to watch the full interview provided above.