Book a toolkit for women entering STEM careers, retired University of Guelph librarian Peggy Pritchard says

Peggy Pritchard says her book, Success Strategies from women in STEM: A Portable Mentor, can help young women entering careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics understand others have faced the same challenges as they started their careers.

Author wants women to see others have faced the same challenges as they started their careers

Peggy Pritchard is a retired librarian at the University of Guelph who recently updated her book to reflect how things have changed since 2006 for women entering STEM careers. (Submitted photos)

As young people enter the workforce, it is important for them to have mentorship, author Peggy Pritchard says.

The retired University of Guelph librarian often interacted with young women taking STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — who were concerned about entering the workforce. Pritchard suggested they should talk to people in the industry, but the women would ask her, "Why would they want to speak to me?"

The question sparked an idea in Pritchard — to create a book with advice from other women in STEM careers offering their strategies for success.

"My vision for the book is to help people who are in the system now to recognize the challenges they face are faced by women who have gone before," Pritchard said.

The Bible and Pritchard's book

Pritchard first wrote Success Strategies from Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor in 2006. She wrote three chapters, then invited other women to write about their experiences and what worked for them.

She said over the years, she has received positive feedback, but the most touching story of them all involves a University of Guelph student from Brazil. Pritchard had connected with the engineering student, who had a young family and had to take unpaid time off to complete her masters work.

Pritchard gave the woman a copy of her book.

"I didn't realize until much later, as she was finishing up her PhD … how important it was to her," Pritchard said.

"She said to me, 'Peggy, your book has been so inspiring to me, so encouraging to me. It's been a long, long haul, it's been really frustration … I have two books on my desk. One is the Bible. The other is your book, and they have helped me through this,'" she said. "I was so moved."

Pritchard also recently had a conversation with a leading scientist in Poland who said the book helped her work towards a work-life balance, and she also recommends the book to her students or women she's mentoring.

Changes to communication

Pritchard updated her book last year because in just 10 years, there were some big changes in the STEM fields, particularly in how people communicate.

"I just saw a growing tendency for people – that is scientists as well as the public – to communicate with each other through Twitter, Facebook, that kind of thing. And that certainly has implications for what the public thinks about discovery and conversations that are going on," she said. "It's very, very important now, even more than ever I believe, for scholars to be involved in that."

Pritchard said she hopes young women will read the book and consider some of the strategies to succeeding and making sure they have balance in their lives.

Not all the strategies will work for everyone, but Pritchard says she likes to think of her book as a toolkit - if one thing doesn't work, try something else.

She said she wants it to inspire people to ask, "How can I make it work for me?"

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