I like to think of myself as a professional problem solver. Every day, I get to solve problems no one knows the answers to. And each solution leads to something better.
As a graduate student at Cornell University, I spent each semester observing my computer science professors. And I spent every summer at AT&T Labs. After I graduated, I had 3 internships with AT&T under my belt. Thanks to these experiences, I knew I wanted to reach a similar level of achievement as the researchers I had worked with. I wanted to be a leader in STEM and make an impact on lives.
I wasn’t the only student with that dream, but I certainly feel like the luckiest. I’ve had the opportunity to achieve the goals I set for myself back in elementary school. My parents taught math and electrical engineering at universities. So watching them work with students sparked my love for STEM. In fact, I still remember the day my elementary school teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told her, “I want to be a scientist!”
Today, I work with a team of researchers and resolve issues that keep your network from working the way you want it to. Because of that work, I accomplished a major goal 15 years in the making: I recently became an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Fellow.
One day, I want to be able to tell my grandkids that I designed the technology they use every day. But to build that legacy, we still have more hard work ahead.
I’d like to share 6 tips to motivate you to live with impact. These pieces of advice helped guide me in my journey from student to scientist. I continue to reflect on them and pass them on to my kids.
1.Take notes. Spend time observing others in your field. Ask questions. See where they are, how they got there and how you can apply lessons from their careers to your own.
2. Learn something new. Knowledge gives you the tools you need to make an impact in a world that’s always changing. Embrace new information with an open mind. It can help you discover the problem you’re passionate about when you least expect it.
3. Think before you follow. It’s tempting to go along with what everyone else is doing. So think first. Your opinion is valuable. Even if 90% of people are going the other way, make your own judgment.
4. Aim for something bigger than yourself. The first step to making an impact is finding a problem that’s worthwhile – something you think is cool. Once you find that problem, don’t let daily distractions keep you from solving it.
5. Give it your best shot. No one succeeds every time. Don’t let mistakes discourage you. When you give everything your best shot and learn from your failures, you’ll be able to look back with no regrets.
6. Walk the walk. Success comes from taking action. Plans look great on paper, but you have to put them into practice to get to the next level. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Reflecting on this wisdom, I’m inspired to push for change through my work in STEM. And I hope you’re encouraged to do the same in your field.
Jia Wang, Lead Inventive Scientist, AT&T Labs