Hometown: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Current residence: Los Angeles, CA
Graduate degree and institution where obtained (or in progress): PhD, Environmental Engineering, University of Southern California
Current employment position: PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California
Why did you decide to go into STEM (or your specific field)?
I liked math a lot growing up, so majoring in engineering seemed like the logical move for me when I started college. Retrospectively, that might have been too little to base such an important decision on, but luckily I ended up enjoying my major (mechanical engineering) a lot! My major allowed me to dabble in a variety of topics, including aerospace, electrical engineering, thermal systems, and more. By my senior year, I developed an interest in energy and environmental issues, so I decided to pivot to environmental engineering for my PhD. Now, I’m studying how energy systems are impacted by water resources, and vice versa.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
I think the most exciting (and rewarding) part of being an environmental engineer is directly seeing the impact your work has on the planet and on society. I also think another exciting aspect is that at the same time the earth itself is experiencing changes, so are different populations, societies, technologies, and more. It makes solving problems all the more complex, but it also makes it more fun.
Were there any specific women in STEM or mentorship experiences that helped shape your career thus far?
My advisor, Prof. Kelly Sanders, who I met while on a visit day to USC. At that time, I wasn’t planning on applying to USC, and I especially didn’t really know what I wanted to research. After meeting Kelly, she told me about her work in what’s known as the “water-energy nexus”, and it was almost like a lightbulb turned on in my head. From there, I knew I wanted to learn more about the water-energy nexus.
I also have to thank the numerous professors at my undergraduate university, CSULA, who helped navigate the tiring process of applying to graduate schools. Because not many of my peers chose to pursue a PhD, and no one in my immediate family had a PhD either, I often felt lost during the application process.
Would you like to share any challenges you have faced as a woman in STEM, and how you overcame these hurdles?
One extremely common experience women and minorities in STEM share is having their accomplishments and achievements doubted and undermined. I think that contributes to so many of us having imposter syndrome. I still struggle with this to this day, albeit to a lesser extent, but I remind myself that I worked hard to earn what I have and where I am.
Any guidance you would like to share to trainees or younger scientists in your field?
Learn to be comfortable with asking for help! As an undergrad, I was often too timid to be open about my struggles and doubts. It took me some time to realize that unless I was forward and open about what I needed, people won’t be able to actually help me.
When not doing science, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love exploring restaurants in LA. I grew up here, but it feels like I’m still discovering new places and pockets of the city all the time. I also really like following the NBA.
How has your experience with GWIS LA been?
It’s been great! Networking can be super awkward and a little intimidating, but the members of GWIS LA have been super approachable. Everyone I’ve reached out to (even out-of-the-blue) has been more than happy to help me and chat with me.