Professor’s Advice: Develop Courage and Seek Mentors

Laura Pence
“Courage is a habit,” says Professor of Chemistry Laura Pence. “The first time you do something that scares you, or that you don’t know how to do, it’s hard,” she continues. “I did so many things that I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I just dive in. You learn to get over that paralysis.” Pence says there’s a difference between, “I don’t know how to do that” and “I can figure this out.” 

She learned that lesson during the year she spent as an American Chemical Society/American Association for the Advancement of Science congressional science policy fellow. Pence had worked in the office of Sen. Michael Bennet, R-Colo., where her policy portfolio featured natural resources, energy, and environmental issues, with emphases in the areas of water and forestry. “My boss would come to me,” she recalls, “and say, ‘You need to write vote recommendations today,’ and I’d tell myself, ‘I don’t know how to do this, but here we go!’”

Pence shared her advice for taking on the unknown as a panelist at the 12th Annual Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference hosted by the Yale Women's Leadership Initiative earlier this semester. She served on the Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) panel discussion that was attended by female students from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. UHart faculty who also took part in the conference were Assistant Professor of History Rachel Walker and Hillyer College Assistant Professor of Literature and Africana Studies Markeysha Davis.

Another recommendation Pence gave the students was that women need a whole pack of mentors, not just one. “No one is going to walk the same path as you,” she says, and points to early on in her career when she had mentors both in and outside of her department. “It was a revelation to me that a lot of women only look for one.”  

Today, Pence is a mentor to members of her department, as well as to current and former students. “The one-on-one mentoring and coaching that I’m doing with students on what they want to do after college is huge,” she says. “Some of it is talking with students and giving them advice on how to make sure that they land in the place they want to be after graduation, while others are looking for help with their essays and personal statements for graduate school.” 

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