In recognition of Women's History Month, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) presents a special blog series featuring candid responses from female ECBC employees and leaders on their experiences as females in the science and engineering fields. The sixth blog in this series features Nicole McKew, a biologist currently working as an Executive Management Specialist (Visit Coordinator/protocol).
When I graduated from college I did not know exactly where I was going to be working. I assumed that I would be working as an environmental scientist or marine biologist in a stream or bay somewhere tagging animals or measuring pollution levels in the water. I never expected to be working for the Army. When I applied for jobs, the one that I chose to pursue was with a government contractor working with the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (ECBC). After a few years as a contractor, I was hired as a biologist with the federal government. I have done a lot in my short time with this organization including working as a biologist, a chemist, a quality assurance manager, and currently working in the Communications Office as an Executive Management Specialist who coordinates all of the visits to ECBC. I am truly a jack of all trades.
One of the biggest challenges that I faced as a young female government employee was gaining respect from more seasoned male scientists. I am a very fast learner yet early on in my career, no one wanted to spend time teaching me. I was actually laughed at and called out as not being very smart because I did not know what someone was talking about at one point in time. This was difficult for me because what I was doing in the labs, was not something that I had learned in college and no one was taking the time to explain anything to me. I pushed through on my own and eventually learned what I needed in order be successful in the lab. It was then that I realized if I were going to make it in this field, I would have to take charge of my own future and not wait around for someone to show me how to do something.
As I moved on in my career, I continued to be doubted by the older generation scientists. No one wanted to listen to my ideas or theories because they felt like they knew more than me or it had been done a certain way for so long and they were unwilling to try something new. I never backed down and I kept posing ideas until finally, people realized that I really was worth listening to.
I think acceptance of females in the field of science has shifted quite a bit over the past 10 years. It is now more acceptable for females to hold management level positions and be well respected in their fields.
The advice that I can offer any female, who wants a job in a predominantly male field, is to not back down. Stand your ground and don’t let people push you around. You are the only one who will carve your path in life and you are the only one who can make things happen for you. If you know something works or your idea is a good one, continue to push it until someone listens.
Nicole McKew is a Biologist who currently works as an Executive Management Specialist (Visit Coordinator/protocol).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.