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SHEs in STEM: I Don’t Know How To Science

Jenni Davids, PhD

Next up in our SHEs In STEM series: I Don’t Know How To ScienceBritt Whidden, Young&BosSHE’s Director of Media and Digital Marketing, chats with Jenni Davids, PhD, to learn what it like to science for a living. 

I don’t know how to “science.” I can’t handle the ins and outs of biology. I don’t know how to describe the difference between mathematics and arithmetic.

I can’t figure out how people find it so fascinating but I’m enthralled when the women of STEM featured on the blog tell their stories. It’s incredibly difficult to not relate to their passion.

I reached out to a friend who works in life sciences for a living, Jennifer Davids, PhD. Her official title is Field Application Specialist, with the Bioline company.

Davids and I spoke for about an hour on what it takes to be in industry sales and hard sciences (e.g. chemistry, engineering) in the world today. She’d come from a focused academic background and as many of her peers did, she thought the higher the education she could attain, the more credible and qualified she’d be in a post-post-graduate world.

Higher education roles and tenure track positions are very few and far between. Not to mention the inherent competition for any one region, school, or program. My biggest questions for Davids weren’t about what it is she does but how she keeps evolving the role she’s taken on.

How does someone adapt with the hard science background? Is it possible to side hustle STEM? (Tell me how you’d do it or are doing it.)

“I don’t think anyone in STEM can be a one trick pony,” said Davids.

“I am always willing to share my science knowledge with marketing to design content, my data analysis knowledge to drive smarter reports for our sales teams,” and insists that applying skills from one knowledge area to support another, that you gain a lot of job security.

She went on to talk through the process of being a Field Application Specialist in the modern world. Products and techniques associated with her role don’t always require a fine-tuned understand of why they work, but a really persuasive and well-reasoned argument for why they’ll be the best solution to a client’s very unique challenges and goals.

A big part of Davids’ role is consumer education in pharma, academic, and government research agencies. Every research lab has a different need though, at heart, every product she’s bringing to the table is relatively the same.  

“In a lot of ways, it’s become performance art.”

You have just a few minutes to learn everything about a project’s aims, conceptualize the troubles the lab is currently experiencing and understand the best ways to solve those problems with the product tool kit at hand. Then the tap dancing begins – how to convince the project scientists you know what you’re talking about, even though they’re the world experts on the one tiny technique and goal they’re working on.

Holy smokes. While talking with Davids, something about science makes sense to me. I had to fight the urge to not add my mother, a lifelong academic and mathematics teacher, to the call.

“I’ve learned that I have to be a buffet of knowledge AND experience,” said Davids, “and it doesn’t hurt to be funny too.”

She considers the backgrounds of every audience then tweaks her presentation to best charm, persuade and position her company and products as a legitimate solution.

As she’s speaking about her presentations, I think of choreographers changing the footwork to start on the second beat. A little adjustment will have a butterfly effect.

After the content is framed for the audience, she’s poised to dissolve barriers between herself and the audience. Sometimes it’s easier said than done as Davids is not just the female scientist often portrayed on screen – she’s also veteran flat track roller derby player with Arch Rival Roller Derby in St. Louis, MO and is a master of the thousand-yard stare. She’s worked a science joke into her derby pseudonym too – she goes by Lethal Dose 50.

“I think the confidence needed to own the space you’re in is a challenge for a lot of women in hard sciences like biochemistry and engineering,” she says.

“Scientists are not always the most socially adept group. A lot of people expect me to be an extrovert, but I’m probably a borderline introvert.”

I was confused again. Thanks, Science.

I’ve never seen Davids do science in person, but when we met, she was the captain of a small flat track roller derby team. My basic understanding of leaders is that there needs to be an E at the beginning of their Meyers-Briggs personality assessment.

Davids proceeds to school me on how extroverts in sales and science can lead the “peer group” mentality. She went on to say that academically, you need peer groups to review, criticize and verify your findings, but in this type of professional role, you must be receptive to another scientists’ approach and generally not challenge them outright, even if their approach is not ideal.

“If you’re only there to talk at the people who want to talk with you, you can’t expect success,” says Davids.

“For smaller meetings, I tell them I’m there to share knowledge but I’d prefer to listen. Once I understand their goals, I can show them better ways to do the same thing, or suggest alternative approaches that might be more direct, without devaluing their ideas.”

After our call ended, I read over my notes for a while. I thought science was about making discoveries and talking about them. I thought being a leader meant blazing a new trail, all the time. The thought has always exhausted me.

In writing all of this out, I’m still not going to try to science as a career. I think STEM is going to be a constantly expanding field for women because there is a change in the way science is applied to the working class. I think if it weren’t for people like Jenni Davids taking time to talk with people like me, we wouldn’t know much else about Dorothy Vaughn.

STEM is growing because that’s what things with stems do.

So, as a very unqualified creative person, here’s my goals if I were to work in science…

  • Be ready to listen. You don’t know when you’ll find the next niche.
  • Being in sales doesn’t make you a sellout. You still get to learn and share knowledge.
  • Don’t be the smartest person in the room. If you are, find a new room.

ICYMI: Check out our other SHEs in STEM posts-Melissa Karlin, Rachel StuveKolisa Yola Sinyanya, Kara LutonStephanie ProvenceSamantha Hau, Kira Bailey, Taylor Breland, and Kelsey Caffy. And don’t miss out on SHEspeaks: Rainu Ittycheriah with Eventbrite (ep 5).

SHEs everywhere, this one’s for you.

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