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SHEs in STEM: Taylor Breland

Taylor Breland is a 26 year-old Business Analyst with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, where she uses the knowledge gained from her Environmental Science degree to assist with the development of web applications aimed at bettering the citizen-government experience. A Nashville native, she finds fulfillment in working for a branch of the State responsible for protecting the land and waterways so near to her heart. When not at work, you can find Taylor snuggling with her two dogs, experimenting in the kitchen, or working out at her local CrossFit gym.

SHEs In STEM: Taylor Breland

Non-Tech Girl in a Very Tech Word

The path that led me to my current position in STEM, specifically tech, is a unique one. I’ve always been this hybrid person, having strong interests in the opposing worlds of art and science. I attended an arts high school in Nashville, then went on to pursue a BS in Environmental Science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. If there’s one thing I learned in college it was this:

I was not a fantastic mathematician or scientist, but I had a knack of communicating technical findings to a non-technical audience.

After coming to this realization, I searched for jobs that allowed me to mesh my interest and understanding of STEM related topics with my strengths in communication and writing. In school, I worked as Editorial Assistant for an environmental, academic journal. I then became Circulation Manager for a conservation magazine published by the State of Tennessee, my current employer, before joining their Communications division. While assisting with the creation of a new website for the magazine, I worked closely with the department’s IT team. When the time came for a professional change, the IT division graciously offered me a position as a Business Analyst, serving as the middle man between customers and developers.

Success STEMs from Communication

Okay, okay. Cheesy sub-header, I know. But it’s true! You don’t have to be good at coding, or analytics, or lab protocols to have a STEM career. Sure, it obviously helps if you have some general, if not in-depth, knowledge about your field, but

what the STEM world needs now is communication, sweet communication. There is more than enough room in STEM for people like me: the translators.

When I first started as a Business Analyst in tech, I was lost in a whirlwind of APIs, UIs, SQLs and varchars. I still feel a little lost sometimes, but in that confusion, I try to remember that the majority of people would feel lost too. This is where communication becomes key. I would argue that my primary responsibility is bridging the gap between my very technical team and my very non-technical stakeholders. Now, I’m not claiming that every STEM-minded person is incapable of holding a conversation or understanding a client’s needs. I’m also not claiming that your Average Joe is incapable of learning all of the acronyms or concepts of programming. But I can say that it’s important to recognize the potential disconnect, as well as the inarguable need for people who can speak both languages. So, if you’re a professional half-breed like me, finding this little niche in STEM could be a really great fit.

Know When You’re Being Talked At and Talked With

Yes, girl. This is where I address, wait for it, mansplaining. So far, I have been fortunate enough to work with a group of people who are generally forward thinking and inclusive. However, like many SHEs, I have definitely had a few run-ins with the man who cannot wait to publicly minimize my capacity to do my job. This is especially true when you’re fresh meat in your field, especially when they realize your primary area of expertise is not the same as theirs, and especially when you’re a female in STEM. In these situations, my best piece of advice is this:

Show them up. Show up to every meeting having done your homework. Become the expert. Talk a little louder. Reinforce your opinions. Eventually, they will have nothing else to “explain.”

On the flip side, be open. Know that not everyone who offers advice is solely interested in boosting their own ego. For every mansplainer you encounter, I guarantee you that you will encounter two humble individuals who simply want to talk with you, to share their knowledge for your betterment. I know we SHEs can enter the conference room with a hard shell, but it’s not always necessary. As important as it is to brace yourself for the oh-so-predictable behaviors of your coworkers, it’s equally important to leave room for those lessons we can only learn through the experience of others. Be open enough to distinguish the difference.

Let the Left Brain Talk to the Right Brain

As SHEs in STEM, we are required to consistently produce documentation and theorems and research analysis, often crunching numbers day-in and day-out.

While this might be your strong suit, I am a firm believer in finding a creative outlet and intentionally making it a part of your life outside of work.

For me, it’s experimenting in the kitchen and, a few times a year, I bust out the ole sewing machine. Of course, I still over-analyze how much sesame oil to put in my cashew chicken, or whether the corners of the baby blanket I sewed are a perfect 90 degrees, but in the end, I made something, not produced it. You will never be able to completely quiet the, sometimes overpowering, logical side of yourself, but you can intertwine it with things that give the right brain a chance to shine!

Go With the Ever-Changing Flow

If you are interested in building a career in STEM, you must be flexible and adaptable. You must be okay with the fact that, upon completion of a project, it may no longer be relevant to the customer. You must be okay with stripping yourself of the programming language you learned two years ago and learning the newest version. You must be okay with putting out a piece of research, only to have your findings disproved in six months by a colleague. You must be okay with change. And while change is sometimes a nasty pill to swallow, it can spawn some truly great things.

If you can embrace the change your STEM career will demand of you, then you, my friend, have the power to change a little slice of the world.

Find Taylor on Facebook. 

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

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