Celebrating International Women’s Day: Career advice and lessons learned along the way

By: Katelyn Godoy
Collection of Dyson women faculty

For International Women’s Day, women at the Dyson School reflected on their careers and shared some lessons they learned along the way. These women are leaders in business and economics, and we’re proud to have them as part of our community. Whether they’re engaging with new undergraduates or experienced executives, there’s no doubt the women of the Dyson School are making an impact.

To the women who wear many hats—teacher, mentor, mother, entrepreneur, friend, researcher—we celebrate you today and every day as you empower others and exemplify what makes the Dyson School so distinct.

Lynn Wooten, professor and David J. Nolan Dean of the Dyson School

Dean Lynn Wooten

“Early on in my life, my mother taught me the importance of having a core group of women on my personal board of directors. These women have been my cheerleaders, champions, and coaches throughout my life journey. They have empowered me to be my best self, celebrated my identities, and helped me to design and execute a career strategy. In times of need, this posse of women ‘fixed each other’s crowns without telling the world they were crooked.’

Moreover, this group of women has taught me how to live an integrated life that is not only career-oriented, but also takes into account my personal well-being, family, and community. Thus, similar to my mother, I tell my daughter and mentees to create and invest in their personal board of directors. Do not underestimate the collective wisdom of a group of talented women.”

Donna Haeger, professor of practice

Donna Haeger

“As you move forward in this life and your journey, continue to nourish your hunger to learn and do more for communities. Do not apologize for seeking new opportunities; and help each other along the way! There is nothing more fulfilling than lifting others as you endeavor to grow, so appreciate the people around you.

Step away from what is comfortable sometimes, and if it gets hard, push harder even when you are intimidated. You can do it. You will come upon many opportunities, some in directions you may not have considered. Do what fills you up rather that what is expected of you. It is OK to pivot or adapt based on your own personal growth and the realization that you have more to contribute…and maybe in new ways. Most of all, come back to share your journey and mentor the next generation. The design of your life is in your hands; embrace it!”

C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, associate professor and the Robert Dyson Sesquicentennial Chair in Environmental, Energy and Resource Economics

C. Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell

“Here’s some advice for students (men and women alike) who wish to pursue a career in economics:

First, quantitative skills are extremely important. Take courses in math, econometrics, computer science, and data analysis; and take upper-level quantitative economics and applied economics courses that use calculus.

Second, if you are considering graduate school in economics or applied economics, seek out opportunities to work on long-term research projects with a professor or in a professor’s research group. Research is challenging and also very rewarding and involves pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

Third, stay true to your values. With your values, dreams, and goals as your compass to guide you throughout the expedition that will be your life and career—and with the strong quantitative skills and solid foundation you will develop from challenging quantitative upper-level economics courses and from research to power you along the way—I know you will go far!”

Aija Leiponen, professor

Aija Leiponen

“Even though you may sometimes feel that people underestimate and undermine you, stay with it, your bright ideas and talent will eventually break through. In my professional circles I see talented women drop out much more often than men. Sometimes one may need to take time to care for family or other things outside of work, but instead of jumping out completely, consider working on a lower intensity for a while, until you can come back full steam.

At the same time, work or vote to create a society where other women do not need to choose between career and family—work hours can be made more flexible to accommodate family needs, and there can be support structures such as affordable childcare, maternity and paternity accommodations, etc. that help women pursue their careers while starting their families. Once you break through, pay it forward!”

Srilakshmi Raj, research associate, Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Srilakshmi Raj

“I would tell my younger self to be patient, enjoy the journey, and stay optimistic. Worrying only wastes time and makes the journey less fun—you’ll be okay in the end. I’ve learned from my students that there’s always time in the day. They seem to make time for everything and still do well at it all. As for advice, I would encourage them not to be afraid and to forge their own path. Just make sure you stay true to yourself.”

Deborah Streeter, Bruce F. Failing, Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management

Deb Streeter

“My advice on International Women’s Day is this: Let’s all support each other’s choices, without judgement, and let’s commit to paying it forward when it comes to mentoring and sponsoring women so we can reach a more diverse composition of leadership in every setting.

If I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d say: 1) learn to negotiate! 2) care less about what others think about your choices and focus more on what you see as the right pathway forward.”

Sarah E. Wolfolds, assistant professor and Andrew Paul Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow

Sarah Wolfolds

“One of the pieces of advice that I undervalued when I was younger was the importance of having female mentors. Now that I am lucky enough to have a couple of senior colleagues who provide such mentorship, it proves to me how much representation matters. Being able to ask questions about which risks to take or where to focus my time and energy, from women who have succeeded with similar time constraints, is essential for my career development. Even as a junior professor, I can fill that role for my students and TAs and provide an example of balancing a career as a woman with other key dimensions of my life, such as motherhood, in my case.”