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Marla Dowell

Division Chief, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA

Marla Dowell

Country of Birth: USA
Country of Residence: USA
Educational Background: PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; MBA, University of Colorado; BS, University of Michigan

Website: NIST

My father is an engineering professor; my step-father was a physicist. Both encouraged me to take advanced science and math classes in school. Later on, an amazing physics professor encouraged me to pursue a career in physics and helped me get my first physics job.

I have a passion for solving problems that help people. My work has touched the lives of many people by enabling better optical measurements for photodynamic therapy to treat cancer, laser safety, communications, and manufacturing. I’ve enjoyed mentoring other scientists in their pursuit of their own professional ambitions. I cherish their successes as much as my own.

I heard a lot of “You can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t do that” early in my career. I ignored most of them - from the “you can’t go to grad school in physics because girls’ brains aren’t suited to physics” to the “you can’t have children and have a career in science” to the “you can’t laugh at work because people won’t take you seriously.” Cheerful support from my wonderful family has been crucial to my success.

If you aren’t happy with where you are or what you’re doing, it’s time to make a change. Don’t be afraid of change.

Sometimes being one of the only women in the room can feel like being a zebra in a herd of horses. Just keep in mind that zebras have better stamina and maneuverability. Bring a unique perspective to each challenge and don’t be afraid to try something just because no one has done it before.

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