Tarianna Stewart, Ph.D., shares with Girl Power Talk her career trajectory as someone who is working to bridge the gender gap in STEM.
My route to STEM was a bit unusual. As a kid, I emulated my parents, so science was all that I knew. Once I got into college, I decided to pursue a career as a psychiatrist and ended up doing schizophrenia research before realizing it wasn’t the route for me. After the completion of undergrad, I pursued a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and this is when I first learned about intellectual property (IP).
After graduating from my Ph.D. program, I began working for a few different law firms writing patent applications. I quickly learned that patent prosecution wasn’t a great fit for me. With the power of networking, I was able to transition from working at a law firm drafting patents to technology licensing associate working at the Georgia Institute of Technology (GaTech). Working alongside the researchers, going into labs, evaluating the technology, and determining patentability were incredibly exhilarating for me. I really felt that my Ph.D. was an asset and that I was truly contributing to technology innovation.
I really thought that I would grow my career at GaTech but life had a different plan for me. I got recruited by the IBM Research IP organization. I know what it is like to have a circuitous career path; sometimes you have to look for your dream job and there may be barriers along the way.
I’ve seized every opportunity that has come my way because even if I don’t know exactly how to do something now, I’m a quick learner and I will eventually get there. The biggest thing that I’ve learned is to always be open to new possibilities. Don’t have tunnel vision and allow the world to come to you.
Also, I am intentional about surrounding myself with a tribe of people that are equally invested in helping me achieve my goals as I am in helping them achieve their goals. This is especially important as a working mother. Balancing work and parenthood can be an achievable challenge with the right support system.
I’ve always had a different mindset on being a woman in the male-dominated STEM and IP field; I’ve seen it as a benefit rather than a hindrance. Being a woman in this arena, particularly a black woman, I have definitely stood out. I take advantage of people’s curiosity and their initial underestimation of me. I allow the quality of my work to speak for me with the goal of shining a light on their unconscious bias towards minority groups.
I enjoy surprising people with my expertise; however, this stereotype needs to change. There should be an automatic assumption that I’m qualified. From what I’ve experienced, it’s been an asset because when people get to know me and what I can do, they appreciate me even more. That triggers their awareness of their unconscious biases, which can motivate more support of minorities and women.
Having a leader with high emotional intelligence is beneficial. It allows people to come to work as their authentic selves. I have come to value empathetic leadership and those who encourage autonomy and give people an opportunity to thrive. I’ve noticed that at IBM, they celebrate every human being and their uniqueness and I celebrate them back for it.
My vision of career success is constantly evolving the further I get into my career. I never want to become complacent with my career. Having a particular vision of what a successful career looks like can cause someone to narrow their potential. They might not seize a perfect opportunity because it isn’t what they envisioned.
Regarding my future, I have had to train myself to focus on the present moment and trust that everything is working in my favor. I must learn to focus on the development of myself and my skill-set and trust that things are working out for the better.
If I could give my younger self advice, it would be to never hesitate to ask for help. If you don’t know something, don’t panic. Every experience is there for a reason and eventually, things will fall into place.