Sponsored in part by the UC Berkeley Physics Department and organized through the American Physical Society, the M. Hildred Blewett Fellowship enables women who have experienced an interruption to return to their careers in physics research. One of the 2015 recipients and former Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley, Huey-Wen Lin, was kind enough to share her experiences as a Blewett Fellow and as a female scholar in physics.
After receiving her PhD in Physics from Columbia University in 2006, Lin went on to a postdoc position at Jefferson Lab in Newport News, VA before later joining the University of Washington as a Research Assistant Professor in 2009. During this time, the challenges of her rigorous academic career were compounded by the fact that Lin’s husband was also working on advancing his own work in the same field. Lin recalls how, “Keeping a family together with two careers in professions that use a PhD degree is very, very hard. Either one has to cope with a long-distance relationship, or one of us has to sacrifice or comprise on job quality.” While expressing gratitude towards the community members who helped them create postdoc positions that ensured they would never be apart for more than a year, Lin remembered how particularly difficult it was for her husband to fully complete academic projects before moving on.
Lin’s career in physics has also been deeply impacted by her role as a working mother of two. With regards to balancing family time with work, Lin says “I had to learn to say ‘no’ so that I will have time for my children when I get home. I used to like to do everything myself…now I assign more tasks to collaborators more to even out the workload.” Her experiences with traveling have also been affected; oftentimes Lin is forced to cut a trip short or finds herself rushing between hotel, conference site, and airport. “There are unusual benefits though…explaining my work or other physics concepts like circuits to my children helps me to communicate better with my undergraduate non-science major students. Trying to see things from children's perspective even inspired an outreach activity for one of my proposals.”
While Lin says that the Blewett Fellowship has certainly eased some of the financial difficulties of childcare, the award has provided her with much more than just monetary support. She describes it as a “ray of hope” that gave her “the spark I needed to continue to pursue my dream…it was incredibly heartening to know someone else thought I could succeed and gave me the award.” Lin also felt especially thankful for the support and encouragement she received from UC Berkeley during her career break.
Lin offered her advice for other women looking to balance their careers with family life: “Don't be ashamed or afraid to ask for help…I know it sounds impossible; I hate to ask people for favors. Those few times I did ask for help, I always got more than I anticipated. People are often eager to help someone in a difficult situation. So thank you very much to those helping hands.”
Professor Lin currently holds a position as Assistant Professor at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on using supercomputers and a theoretical approach called “lattice QCD” to study the strong interaction between quarks and gluons in the Standard Model.