Interview with Dr. Ellen Veomett
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Recently, I had the chance to interview the wonderful Dr. Ellen Veomett regarding her background and life as a woman in STEM. Dr. Veomett is a professor at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California teaching mathematics. She also performs research in combinatorics, geometry, and the intersection of mathematics with election outcomes.
Over the course of our interview, Dr. Veomett opened up about the gender gap in her college courses and experiences once a professional.
Q: "How and when did you know you were interested in STEM?"
A: "I knew that I liked science... all throughout school... and music... I was originally planning on doing sound design and engineering."
We then dove a bit deeper into her engineering background. Dr. Veomett had actually initially had interest in going into Electrical Engineering. In her first engineering course, though, she had this to say:
"I didn't quite clique with the other students... [they were] not the kind of people I wanted to be colleagues with."
Q: "Did you ever notice the division between males and females interested in STEM? If so, what were your thoughts back then?"
A: "I was lucky that when I was in college... [the people there were] extremely supportive of women... 50-50 undergrads."
Yet, there was a difference in personality. In general, the males were often characterized as "being a peacock", or having a sense of overconfidence, while it was said much less for females.
Once Dr. Veomett was in graduate school, though, the ratio of women decreased down to 30%.
"I was the first woman to graduate my adviser had."
At an Analysis conference, it's noted that Dr. Veomett was "one of two women there".
Q: "Relating to the previous question, what are your opinions now on the division between males and females in STEM professions?"
A: "Every department's different."
Dr. Veomett actually had a couple of stories, both from her own experience, but also stories she's heard from friends and colleagues.
At University of California, Berkeley, there is "one faculty member people had had issue with", according to Dr. Veomett. He has reportedly "hit on graduate students", and said things such as, "You don't look like a mathematics student... you look like a yoga instructor," to a female student.
Another circumstance that came up was women getting pregnant. One friend of Dr. Veomett was described as "one of the stars [of graduate school]". Yet, as soon as she got pregnant, she was put on a different path though she had potential to be much more.
"It trapped her in a position that her career [couldn't take off]."
From Dr. Veomett's own experience, when she was pregnant with her second child, she was simultaneously writing a research paper with a male colleague. Yet, the male colleague attempted to publish the paper with only his name listed as a writer, and was caught.
In post-graduate school, Dr. Veomett attended a conference. From the very beginning she "noticed [herself] feeling really uncomfortable." And then she spoke to someone about her research.
"I realized that... the guy never spoke to me, but rather my male colleague."
In the end, though, Dr. Veomett stated
"I love all the people I collaborate with."
which is really important in her passion for mathematics.
Thank you Dr. Veomett for taking part in this interview with me, and you, for reading this article. I hope that it opened up your views for what life is like for women in STEM, and not the obvious, but also the non obvious obstacles going through school and eventually a professional.