Priya Khullar: Being the Only Woman There is not a Weakness, It's a Strength
Priya Khullar, BSE ’20 / MEM ’21, always knew she wanted to be in STEM. Choosing to pursue a career in engineering was an easy decision to make mainly for two reasons. First, she always enjoyed math and science, and second, she needed to make sure that her future degree would help afford her a stable job.
Initially, Priya chose Systems and Control Engineering “based on the fact that it is the most math-dependent field of engineering.” But it was when she met her academic advisor that she became interested in electrical engineering. Once she learned about the potential in studying the discipline, she was convinced that obtaining both degrees would help her “gain a variety of technical skills that were imperative to her career.”
The Beauty of Engineering
For Priya, there is beauty in engineering – “the fact that it’s really just applied physics (which is really just applied math) and that it can accomplish so many different things.”
Engineering is also a challenge, although she has discovered that the difficulties this field of study poses have made her a stronger person: “Inevitably, I could have chosen a different degree and path altogether, but engineering is tough and there are times where I considered leaving but having survived it thus far, the challenge is worth it.”
When it comes to gender roles, Priya can attest to the fact that women are underrepresented in both academic and corporate worlds. As a minority woman, she has encountered many cultural challenges, from being the only woman who “looks like her” in her class to being the only female on her team while working in large engineering companies. Her engineering classes have been led mostly by male professors, and in the workforce, “it’s really not that different,” she says. “I genuinely believe that the biggest challenge we women face in the STEM world is that there aren't that many of us and it makes our jobs harder.”
Yet there are a few important truths Priya has learned as a female engineering student. It is tough and incredibly frustrating at times. “Here’s another truth: you totally can do it,” she says. “You are 100% capable of receiving your degree even if it feels like the biggest mountain you have to climb.”
She wishes she knew at the start of her engineering classes that she didn’t have to be a straight-A student to find career success, but most importantly, she wishes she had someone to tell her that “being the only woman there isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.”
CWRU Women in Tech Initiative
Priya thinks programs like CWRU Women in Tech Initiative help boost female representation and bridge the gap by creating support networks. She believes the initiative is a great way to learn from other women’s experiences, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to create a space that supports women in their pursuit of careers.
“I'm so excited to be a part of a program that provides women in tech-related fields the opportunity to get in the same room and talk about the issues we deal with or that we might face in the future.”
Priya is currently charting her own career course forward by having to decide between working in project management roles or in consulting roles. “Both offer a variety of challenges,” she says. She will be finishing her Master of Engineering Management program next year. She hopes the degree will help her start a career that is related to both engineering and business, as opposed to a solely engineering-based path.