Exceptional Women: Seda Sarp

This week, in exceptional women, we talked to Seda Sarp, Graduate Student.

Degree: Chemical&Biological Engineering / Earth&Environmental Engineering

Question: Where are you from? 

Answer: I am from Turkey.

Q: What school did you attend? 

A: I studied Chemical & Biological Engineering at Koc University in Turkey and I am currently working towards my Masters in Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University.

Q: Can you give us a quick rundown of your career?

A: Making use of the flexibility of my degree I have worked in different fields before I settled on a field for my graduate degree. During my undergraduate, I have worked in a polymer lab, a computational biology lab, and a catalysis lab. I have worked at a medical devices company and an oil refinery before I started my Master’s degree.

Q: How and when did you found out that (STEM) was your career to follow?

A: I believe I decided to pursue a career in STEM in high school. In Turkey there are different types of high schools, social sciences oriented, languages oriented or STEM-oriented. I went to a STEM-oriented school and there I had the opportunity to shadow a couple of STEM professionals as well as participating in research competitions for high school students in mathematics and chemistry. This way I was able to choose a major that I really liked.

Q: What aspect of your job is the most challenging?

A: I am currently a research assistant at Columbia and I believe the most challenging part is to come up with solutions no one has ever thought of. Doing research on something new is particularly challenging because if you come across a problem there is no easy way to overcome it but to think for yourself for a creative solution. Sometimes you are not sure if you are doing the right thing and feel unintelligent if it doesn’t work, but eventually, it all helps you learn and get better at what you do!

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

A: You get to invent things! When you have a publication or a patent it is the best feeling to look at it and say that YOU made it.

Q: What can you say is the key to your success?

A: Everyone has their own keys to success. For some it’s ambition and determination, for some it’s hard work but for me, it is supportive people. If my family was not supportive of me having a career in STEM I would not have been able to get in an Ivy League school with a fellowship.

Q: What advice would you give young women who are considering pursuing a STEM career?

A: My advice would be to firstly believe in yourself. Don’t ever feel like you’re insufficient, if you are determined to get a career in STEM, you will get it as long as you don’t stop working! Also surrounding yourself with people who will support you helps a lot to push you through when you feel like giving up or catch the impostor syndrome.

Q: If you could tell your 15-year-old-self anything, what would it be?

A: I would love to thank my 15-year-old self for being the “nerd” she was. She thought it was not “cool” back then but now she understands that hard work pays off.