3C's Spotlight: Dr. Anna DeJong

All young women in college have one thing in common - questions relating to the workforce. That's why we at Her Campus at CNU hosted Coffee, Careers, and Conversations this past Spring. This time we had slightly different professors, and one of them was Dr. Anna DeJong. Dr. DeJong teaches in the physics department, specializing in Astronomy, specifically Earth's magnetosphere. As a woman in a STEM field, Dr. DeJong was able to give an excellent perspective on the workforce. 

What interests led you to become a physics - or more specifically, an astronomy - professor?

"I always loved physical science - I learned at a young age that I was really bad at writing. I have dyslexia - as you can tell by my spelling in class - so I was always drawn to the physical sciences. I was interested in things like physics and chemistry even in elementary school. In high school, I wanted to become a high school physics teacher. I did actually become a high school physics teacher for about five years, and then I went back full time to graduate school. After doing research for a while I was like 'Okay, I want to do research,' and then I started teaching again. Then I realized that I really loved teaching - it was what made me happy. So I love being at a place like CNU where I can do both - focus on teaching during the semester but still to get do my research. I get to work with students on my research, so for me, that's been great here."

What is your favorite class to teach and why?

"I like all my classes! I love teaching the Astronomy class because it's like teaching the general public. I get to teach people who wouldn't necessarily think about science in a certain way to try and get them to think that way a little more. To be more critical of articles and the science they're reading about, so I always look forward to teaching that class. I also get to teach an Astrophysics class, which I really enjoy, because it's not like the upper-level physics classes where I have to get through all the information, but I can just kinda cover what I want and have fun. But there's more physics involved so I can do it at a higher level than the Astronomy."

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

How was the 3C's experience for you? 

"It was fun! It was nice. I enjoyed getting to know the three ladies at the table - they were freshmen - and you know, it was just kinda nice. They were all people I hadn't met before and to just kind of hear their stories and get to know them - I personally enjoyed it."

How is the work/life balance for you?

"My work/life balance I would say is pretty good. CNU has been very good about that - when I came here my youngest was two and my oldest was five. So I kinda came in saying I won't teach evening classes - since CNU still teaches a lot of evening classes - and that was kind of my thing. I've never been given any grief about it. It's always been like, 'No, she doesn't teach night classes,' things like that. It's also nice being a professor because if I have don't have to be on campus - like my kids or something - I can work from home. CNU makes it really easy to do the work/life balance. This time of year it's hard because I have to be here on the weekends for admitted freshman days - but my husband's really great about that." 

What advice would you give women who would like to pursue STEM-related fields?

"Persist! [Laughs] You kind of have to get used to being around guys all the time. I notice more when I'm in a room full of women than when I'm in a room full of men. The physics field is only 20% female, so it's not unusual for me to go out to lunch with my friends, and then, halfway through lunch, realize I'm the only woman at the table and there's, like, seven or eight of us there. You kind of have to get used taking things with a grain of salt. The things that upset me the most is when people say things like, 'Oh, well you're going to have to think about your career when you have a family,' or 'Oh, don't you just want it all.' Nobody would ever say that to a man. I've given talks for women in STEM, and, basically, if you want to know whether or not it's sexist, if you wouldn't say it to a man, then don't say it to me. You would never say to a man whose wife is pregnant and who's getting a Ph.D., 'Oh, you just want it all, don't you,' but my friends have gotten those kinds of comments. This department is really good about it because a lot of the men here are worried about the work/life balance because they have families, too, and their wives work, so that's been good. But that's kind of the thing - choose your battles, don't sit back and just take it, but at the same time work within the system and get your point across. The other thing that can be hard for women in STEM, because it's such a male-dominated field, is that you just have to be better - twice as much work to get have of the recognition. Luckily, here that hasn't been an issue, but other places I've worked at it has. Kind of like, the 'Oh, you come in late and leave early,' and it's like 'No, I come in at 8:30 and leave at 4,' and I work through lunch. My husband was coming in the same amount of time and he heard, 'Good face time!' So, the biggest thing about being a woman in STEM is getting used to being 'one of the guys' while also not letting go of your femininity. Sometimes I forget that it's okay to be a girl, it's okay to want to wear the jewelry, it's okay to want to be pretty. I'm so used to being around guys that I have to remind myself and be like, 'No, you're a girl', and it's okay! You don't have to be masculine - just be yourself. I just try to be myself, too."

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