Oral-History:Emily Carter

About Emily Carter

Emily A. Carter was born on November 28th, 1960 and earned her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982, and her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1987 from the California Institute of Technology. Between 1988 to 2004, Carter was employed by the University of California, Los Angeles, where she held professorships in Chemistry and Materials Science. Carter is the Dean of the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, and a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University.

In this interview, Carter discusses her childhood, education, her career at UCLA, Princeton, and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. At the end of the interview, Carter reflects on gender issues and gives advice to aspiring professionals.

About the Interview

EMILY CARTER: An Interview Conducted by Kelsey Irvin, IEEE History Center, 11 July 2016.

Interview #768 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Indiana University and to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Emily Carter, an oral history conducted in 2016 by Kelsey Irvin, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Emily Carter

INTERVIEWER: Kelsey Irvin

DATE: 11 July 2016

PLACE: Teleconference

Introduction

Irvin:

So I’d like to welcome you to your oral history interview. We hope to cover the main events of your life to best understand how you got where you are today. If you feel uncomfortable or unable to answer any questions at any time, we can move on to another question keeping in mind that you will be able to edit the transcript and add or delete anything you would like. So let’s begin by talking about your early life and education.

Early Life and Education

Irvin:

So to start off could you please state your full name and date and place of birth?

Carter:

Emily Ann Carter. I was born on November 28, 1960 in Los Gatos, California.

Irvin:

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? Did you grow up in California?

Carter:

I grew up in California. I went to nursery school, kindergarten, and the first half of elementary school in Los Gatos. Then I lived for a year in Israel. My father was a physicist, and he took a sabbatical at the Weizmann Institute of Science. I lived in Rehovot, Israel for nearly a year and became fluent in Hebrew: the only other non-English language I ever became truly fluent in. Then we came back to the U.S. and moved to Santa Cruz, California. I lived in Santa Cruz until I graduated from high school, and then I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad.

Irvin:

Were you interested in science and chemistry when you were younger?

Carter:

Well, my first real love was math. I loved math and reading in elementary school. I also loved creative writing and theatre. I loved math all the way along; I think I didn’t have as much exposure to science in elementary school as in some places because of how the California schools were constructed, but I did have a number of really good math teachers. I started getting seriously interested in science when I took chemistry in high school. I didn’t think I was interested in science much at all, just math, until I took chemistry as a junior. I really loved it. Then, I thought maybe I will become a chemist, or a chemical engineer, or a biochemist.

Irvin:

You mentioned that your father was a physicist. What was your mother’s occupation?

Carter:

My mother was a psychiatric social worker.

Irvin:

Did your family encourage your technological interests and interests in physics and chemistry?

Carter:

Yes, definitely. There was some 9th grade science class which I think was Earth Science. I don't really remember. Normally at that time you would then take biology as a 10th grader, but I had heard bad things about that class, in terms of not learning anything, and so I took physics instead. I took courses out of order but did fine. Around that time, because I had two years of science - I don’t even remember this, but my mother told me later, I must have blocked it out - I was being advised by a high school counselor who said, “Why do you want to take more science? You don’t need to take science. You’re a girl. Two years is really all you need.” My mother was so outraged. She went down to see the counselor and said, “Don't you ever tell my daughter not to take more science and math.” And I loved my mother for that. So I took chemistry, also because my father had said to me, even though he wasn’t a chemist, “Everyone needs to know chemistry. You have to take chemistry. It’s important.” After I took chemistry, I loved it, and it really changed my trajectory. So my parents were very helpful and supportive in terms of pursuing my interests in math and science.

Irvin:

That’s great. What led you to University of California, Berkeley for your bachelor’s degree?

Carter:

Well, my parents, said, “You know, University of California is a great university.” They weren’t wealthy, and they said, “We don’t want you to apply to any private university because we just don’t feel we can afford it.” So, I had limited my set of choices to Universities of California basically. As you know I am here at Princeton now, and they have a no-loan program, which is great. But at the time I was applying, those kinds of opportunities didn’t exist to provide grants. So, I didn’t even think about applying to an Ivy League school because my parents basically said, “We can’t let you go there.” So, I visited and considered different Universities of California but Berkeley was and remained my first choice. It’s the oldest and had the best reputation. I also really liked the Berkeley area. I went and attended a chemistry class to see what it was like before I decided. I really enjoyed the class I sat in on. Ironically, I didn’t know when I went there that I actually ended up being at the number one chemistry department in the world. I was just lucky that I ended up in a place that was so good for chemistry.

Irvin:

What led you to California Institute of Technology for your doctoral education after you finished at Berkeley?

Carter:

Well, at the time when I was applying to grad schools…so I knew I wanted to go to grad school and I applied actually to only three places. I applied to University of Wisconsin, Madison and MIT and Caltech, and I got into all three. As it turned out, I visited Caltech first, and I just had the most amazing, you know, Vulcan mind meld is the only way I can describe it, with one of the professors who ended up being my Ph.D. advisor. It was just an amazing experience talking to him. He was doing exactly what I wanted to work on. I was meeting with many different faculty that day, and he and I met for an hour and I met for an hour each with a bunch of others. At the end of the day, he found me and said, “When are you flying back?” I said, “I’m supposed to fly back tonight.” He said, “We’re going to change your flight. We’re not done talking.” [laughter] It was incredible. So, we spent the next half of a day talking science, and then I went back to Berkeley and I decided, this is it. Forget it. I cancelled my trip to MIT. I don’t think I’d set up yet a trip to Wisconsin. I just said, “Nope. This is who I want to work for.” So, I went.

Irvin:

That’s great. So what was your Ph.D. research topic that you worked on while you were there?

Carter:

It was theoretical physical chemistry of catalysis. That’s probably the simplest way to describe it.

Irvin:

Once you had gotten your Ph.D., what led you to do postdoctoral research at University of Colorado?

Carter:

That was also interesting. I think people’s life trajectories are so interesting in how various events can change what you end up deciding to do. There was a piece of research that had been published about chemical reactions in liquids. It was a collaborative work between the person who I ended up doing my postdoc with at the University of Colorado, Casey Hynes, and a professor at UC-San Diego, Kent Wilson. It was just so interesting because within about three months of one another, I heard both of them give seminars on the exact same work, and the contrast between what they chose to emphasize was so striking. I thought the work was fascinating, first of all. I was just so inspired by the insights that Casey Hynes had for the work and what he focused on. Kent Wilson was an excellent scientist, but it was just a very different level of depth and intellectual thought that I saw from Casey Hynes. After I saw him speak at a conference about this work, I went up to him and I started talking to him and said I was interested in doing a post-doc with him. I applied, and he accepted me. I decided he was the one I wanted to go learn from.

The reason I wanted to go work with him was because it brought me into a new area. This is, in fact, what I tell my students and what I have always told my students. The worst thing you can do when you finish your Ph.D. and you’re an expert in something is then to go do a postdoctoral fellowship with someone where you don’t learn anything new. You’re just an expert in this and you’re helping that person, but you’re not really broadening your own skill set. It is really important to go work on something completely different. Yes, you’re starting over in terms of knowledge, but you know how to do research. You should be able to very quickly learn new things. In fact, that is what I did. The work I had done as a graduate student was in quantum mechanics, and the work I did as a postdoc was in the area of statistical mechanics, which are quite different subfields of physical chemistry. So, I learned a whole set of new skills by working with Casey Hynes.

Also, as it turned out, at the time that I was there, there was a visiting Professor of Physics from the University of Rome, Giovanni Ciccotti, who is a real giant in the field of molecular dynamics simulations. He was spending the year there, in fact, so the three of us worked together, so I kind of had two postdoctoral advisors by accident, and that was really terrific. And some of my most impactful work was done at that time.

Irvin:

How long did you do your postdoc for?

Carter:

I was only there for 10 months because in my fifth year of graduate school, a job came open at UCLA in my field, and typically, in any given year at that time there might be 3-5 jobs in the nation in my field. I had personal reasons why I needed to stay in the Los Angeles area, so while it was highly unusual in the chemistry field for someone who hadn’t even started writing their thesis yet to apply for a faculty position, my Ph.D. supervisor just said, “You should apply.” So I applied, and UCLA interviewed me. I’d already published a lot of papers, so, you know, there was a peer-reviewed evaluation of me out there already even though I didn’t have my Ph.D. yet. I know they interviewed eight other people, eight postdocs, and I got the job. The lowly graduate student beat them out. [laughter] So, the point was I got the job, and I said, “Look, I still want to go do this postdoc. It's going to broaden my skill set. But I’ll only go for a year.” So they let me go on a year’s unpaid leave of absence to do the postdoc.

Irvin:

Oh, that’s great that they worked with you to do that.

Carter:

Yes.

Irvin:

What part of your education would you say was most beneficial to your career?

Carter:

Oh, my graduate education, I would say. I mean of course they all build on one another. I think the undergraduate education at Berkeley was very good. But the research component of my graduate education was really exceptional, to have the opportunity to learn from someone I considered to be really brilliant and original, and who was very supportive of his students, was really terrific. Basically in an apprentice kind of style.

Irvin:

What moments in your younger life would you say stand out as life-changing or critical moments in your career?

Carter:

Hmm…I don’t know. What can I say? There’s been lots of…I suppose, when I was an undergrad, I tried out a lot of different kinds of research, both experimental and theoretical research. I worked for an experimentalist whose style of motivating his people was through negative reinforcement, and I learned that I really disliked that. I vowed that I would only try to work with people who used positive reinforcement. I also vowed I would model positive reinforcement for my own students. And that doesn’t mean you’re not critical; you can be critical in a constructive way. That was also a life-changing moment in terms of figuring out the direction in which I wanted to head. I wanted to head into theoretical work and I wanted to work for someone who was, and this was certainly true of the guy that I worked for, a very positive person.

What else? Getting the job at UCLA was a critical moment, certainly. It gave me the freedom to go do this postdoctoral work and to get a head start on my UCLA faculty position. That was good too. I wrote a lot of proposals while I was a postdoc. I was doing my postdoctoral work, and at the same time I was writing grant proposals to get funding for my future research. A whole bunch of them got funded, so I was able to walk in the door with funding right as I started and I was off to the races. So that was really great. I don’t know, what else? Hard to say.

Irvin:

Well, those things certainly sound like they were important to your career.

Career

Irvin:

So you’ve kind of already mentioned how you became a professor at UCLA. So what kinds of projects did you work on while you were there?

Carter:

Well, I had in mind that based upon what I did for my graduate work and my postdoctoral work, I wanted to merge quantum mechanics with statistical mechanics and dynamics, and that was something at the time – I mean, it’s much more common now – but at the time, it had been done very rarely. Certainly, it hadn’t been done in chemistry at all. It had been done so rarely, I wasn’t even aware that it had already been done by some physicists. So that’s what I set out to do, and I did that. So that’s what got me tenure, I would say. What got me promoted to tenure was the work I did that combined quantum mechanics and dynamics together, especially for looking at problems related to what is called surface chemistry, chemical reactions that occur on the surface of a solid.

Irvin:

What led you to be UCLA Director of Modeling and Simulation at California Nanosystems Institute?

Carter:

Well, I was asked to take on that role as we were formulating what the California Nanosystems Institute would become. My role at the time, because it was just being formulated, was to really craft a vision for how modeling and simulation would contribute to nanotechnology research being done in the Institute.

Irvin:

How were you able to pursue this position while also a faculty member at UCLA? Were you kind of doing both things at once?

Carter:

Yes, I was. But I would say that, you know, my role…the Institute didn’t really get off the ground as much until after I had already left. I was there helping with the Institute basically in the initial stages of formulating the vision and designing the building and doing a lot of the preliminary legwork. There weren’t a lot of projects within the CNSI that were happening at the time yet.

Irvin:

So what was your vision for the Institute?

Carter:

Basically that we should be integrating modeling and simulation heavily with experimental work to help guide the design of new nanotechnology and also help with the interpretation of experiments.

Irvin:

What led you to take a new position as Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at UCLA?

Carter:

Well, my work evolved over time. It had really started out as much more pure chemistry. Over time, I started working more and more on very fundamental materials science problems. As a result, the Materials Science and Engineering Department welcomed me as a member of their department in addition to my position in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at UCLA.

Irvin:

What led you to leave your position at UCLA, and take a position at Princeton as a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Applied and Computational Mathematics?

Carter:

So, essentially I got a phone call out of the blue from one of the professors in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department here, asking me to come visit. He said it would be nice if I could come for two days, which was kind of unusual. Usually, if you are just coming to give a seminar, which people do all the time, it is a one-day visit. And I asked, “Two days? Why?” He started laughing and said, “Well, I’ll come clean.” This is a guy whom I knew because both of us were serving as advisors to what is called the Theory Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. So, he said, “it turns out that within the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department we have what’s called an appointments committee, and the appointments committee looks around the landscape for people that we might want to try to hire. This committee discovered you and was really interested in the work you’re doing.” Because I was doing a lot of work related to aerospace materials, and I was also doing work related to mechanical properties of materials, which are very central to what goes on in that department. Anyway, he said, “We’re very interested in you, and they wanted to reach out and invite you. But then, they all realized that none of them had ever met you.” They wanted to find someone who might have met me to make the phone call, so that’s why he was calling. He said, “Might you be interested?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’m willing to come and check it out.”

And so, I went and stayed for a couple of days in the department and had these great conversations with people and realized that there was just great intellectual overlap in the work that I did with about 60% of the department. Because of the way my research had evolved over time, I had much less intellectual overlap in the department that I was in at UCLA. I was feeling kind of isolated there intellectually and so that was what really led me to being interested in moving to Princeton, because of the intellectual overlap with both the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics.

Irvin:

What projects did you work on when you began working there?

Carter:

Well, I brought a bunch of projects with me, and then I eventually started working on new projects. They have been primarily related to properties of materials, things like understanding how materials degrade and how to stop them from degrading – how to protect them and how to stop them from failing under different conditions of use. I worked on, for example, high temperature coatings for turbine engines that are used in power plants and on airplanes, and just lots of different projects.

Irvin:

What led you to take on a named faculty position in 2006 as Arthur W. Marks’19 Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Applied and Computational Mathematics?

Carter:

Well, the endowed chair is something that is given as an honor. Basically, I was recruited to Princeton with some understanding that that was going to happen in fairly short order, that I would receive this kind of an honorary title, and so that’s what happened.

Irvin:

What led you to be Co-Director of Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center?

Carter:

The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Princeton has a long history of doing leading science in combustion under a whole range of conditions and length scales. Ed Law, one of my colleagues in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, wanted to put together this proposal to start this Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center, it ultimately was funded by the Department of Energy, and he asked me to be the Co-Director along with him as the Director. He would lead the engineering side, and I would bring the fundamental science side. So, I agreed to be the Co-Director on that basis, and that project was funded for five years.

Irvin:

Okay. So what led you to become Founding Director, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment?

Carter:

Princeton received this extraordinary gift in 2008 from Gerry Andlinger. He was in the Class of ’52 here at Princeton and is passionate about the issues of the environment and its connection to energy use. So he established the Center within the School of Engineering because he really wanted the focus of the center to be about solutions, to be discovering solutions to ensure our energy and environmental future. After the gift came in, the then Dean of Engineering asked me to serve on two committees to start to build the center. One was a steering committee that was meant to work with architects to design a building, which most of the gift money went towards. The other was a search committee to look for the first director and to do an international search.

So, I agreed to be on both, and at the very first meeting of the search committee, half the committee said, “There’s no reason for us to do a search. It’s obvious who should be the director. Emily should be the director.” And I said, “No. We were asked to do an international search and we should do an international search.” I had just applied for a lot of new research grants. I had a lot of new ideas of research I wanted to do. I really wasn’t interested in administration at that point. So, I didn’t want to consider it.

Then we did a search for a year, and we didn’t hire anybody. It was really eye opening to see the slim pickings in terms of people that would have the entire skill set that you’re looking for to build the center. So, after that when they were renewing the search, the head of the search committee came to me, “I asked you once if you would step off the committee last year and you said no,” and “Would you consider stepping off the committee this year and becoming a candidate?” I said, “I think I have to, because I think it’s important, and I do feel things are different now.” Because during that interim time, five out of the six grant proposals I had submitted got funded, so it certainly made me feel that I had an opening anyway for a period of time to not have to write a lot of grant proposals to get research funding, and I could potentially spend time doing administrative work and helping Princeton build the Center. I don’t know how many people they interviewed the next year, but I interviewed and was offered the job, and I became the Founding Director in the fall of 2010.

Irvin:

What was your mission and vision as Founding Director?

Carter:

Well, the mission that we articulated was to find the solutions to ensure our energy and environmental future. Then, we have a series of goals that go along with that mission. Those goals included developing a vibrant intellectual community so that people can come together to cross-fertilize ideas across disciplines; to establish new ways of educating students, science and engineering students, and also humanities and social science students; accelerating research and finding ways to stimulate new research, bringing people in with expertise that maybe haven’t worked on problems of energy and the environment, but that have great skills sets that can be helpful; also building partnerships with industry; and also becoming a place that provides good information for policy-makers, for governments.

I think we’ve succeeded on all of those grounds. Also, I had to recruit a lot of new faculty. I mostly met all the goals I had set for myself before I stepped down. We hired eight new faculty jointly appointed between the Center and a variety of departments. We still need to hire a couple more but that will be the job of the new director.

In terms of all of those goals listed above, we started a highlight seminar series to build the community a little bit, which brings in experts from all over the world to talk about issues and research in energy and the environment. We have a research directory that essentially has made visible all of the relevant work being done on campus so that it’s easy for people to see. If they want to know everyone who’s working on solar energy, they can go to this research directory and they can pull up names of people to call to have discussions.

I also did a lot of fundraising with the Development office here to bring in even more money to be able to offer seed funding for research. We’ve funded a lot of different projects across the campus, both to faculty, to graduate students, and also to undergrads, including a summer undergraduate internship program and a graduate fellowship program.

On the education front, together with the School of Engineering and Applied Science we established two undergraduate certificate programs that are like multidisciplinary minors: one that is meant for the humanities and social science kids, and one that is meant for the science and engineering kids. The last is a more technical one. The other one looks at impacts of energy and environment on society and vice-versa. We started a corporate affiliates program, and we have partnerships with five companies right now.

To meet the last goal of helping to provide good information to government, we started a project that I dubbed the Energy Technology Distillates Project. It’s meant to distill down to the essence the key concepts of different emerging energy technologies and key issues associated with them. So, we’ve issued one each year for the last three years on different energy technologies, the first one being on battery storage for renewables, the second on nuclear energy, and the third one is on fusion energy. So, that’s the kind of projects that have been going on in the center.

Irvin:

Generally throughout your career, what kinds of things did you find most satisfying in a job?

Carter:

What I find most satisfying in a job on the research side is when there is some just beautiful discovery – absolutely beautiful. It’s a high unlike any other when you have some terrific insight into something. That’s really amazing. On the educational side, what I find the most satisfying is to help people grow intellectually, and to see how I can help them deepen their understanding, become more rigorous scientists and engineers, and to produce mature researchers for whom I have had a hand in fundamentally changing the way they approach the research that they do and the learning that they do. That, for me, is very satisfying to see, especially with graduate students: to take them from being essentially untrained to the point when they graduate to being an independent scholar - I feel like I’ve taken what was a lump of clay and produced a beautiful sculpture in terms of their intellectual skill set. It’s really a cool thing.

Gender Related

Irvin:

Now that we have talked about your career, one of the things we are particularly interested in for this interview is the challenges of being a woman in a STEM field. Have you ever experienced discrimination based upon your gender in your career?

Carter:

Yes. Let’s just say I’ve experienced plenty of hostility, okay? I guess that could be a form of discrimination. It’s hard to prove discrimination, right? But certainly, I’ve experienced bias.

Irvin:

So how have you overcome these issues?

Carter:

I would say that the main way that I have overcome them is to mostly just have a sense that what matters is your actions. Actions speak louder than words. It’s very hard for people who are biased to overcome facts that someone is good at what they do. It’s going to be very hard for them to justify trying to insinuate that you’re not competent. I just have always tried to do the absolute best work that I can do.

Irvin:

Yeah, absolutely. Was there any time when you doubted yourself and/or your work?

Carter:

In graduate school. I think it’s extremely common to do so, and certainly it was true for me as well. You know, you go through times when you think, “Really? I’m not sure I’m suited for this.” It’s very common. I think probably in undergraduate school it happened as well, but not very often because I did well as an undergrad. There it’s very different because you get grades. If you get straight A’s, it’s really hard to say to yourself that you’re not doing well. In grad school, you mostly don’t get grades. I mean, you do. You take some courses. You get some grades. But mostly, you’re doing research. It’s much more open-ended and so, you’re not getting the same kind of concrete feedback as you do when you take a course for a grade.

Irvin:

How did you overcome these emotions of doubt during graduate school?

Carter:

I talked to friends. I talked to my parents. I talked to my boyfriend. I talked to my advisor. I talked with people. I tried to sort out what I was feeling. I think that’s really important, to talk to people who are your support network.

Irvin:

Do you feel like gender played any role in this doubt?

Carter:

Oh, I think so, yeah, because the number of times women are told that they are not competent or assumed not to be competent compared to men is very large.

Irvin:

Did you feel any additional pressure to balance your professional and family life based upon your gender?

Carter:

Oh yeah. Definitely. When I was an Assistant Professor, I didn’t think that I could even think about having a kid, not that anybody told me I couldn't, but, I just didn’t feel like I could work it in. I didn’t have a wife that could take care of things, right? I think all women would like to have wives. Unfortunately, we don’t. I think that it wasn’t until after I got tenure that I started thinking that it should be fine now if I want to have a child. But, I only had one child, and it was partially because I waited so long. It just becomes harder biologically to have more children. It was partially that, and it was partially that I felt certain I could balance having one child and be a good mom, and it wasn't clear to me that I had the energy or time to have two children and be a good mom. I wanted to make sure I could be a really good mom and still be able to do my work. It’s important also to have really good childcare. I was fortunate to be at UCLA that had really good childcare because otherwise it would have been very difficult to even have one child. I know that my male colleagues of the same age didn’t give it a second thought. They just knew that their wives were going to sacrifice their career, and were going to take care of them and take care of the kids. I didn’t have that.

Irvin:

Do you have any advice for a woman in a demanding career who wishes to start or maintain a family life?

Carter:

Well, I would say that the point is you can do it. You just have to decide what is really most important to you and focus on those things and not try to do everything because you can’t.

Reflection/Advice

Irvin:

So now I’d like to ask you a few questions to reflect on your career and give some advice before we wrap up. Have you seen any notable trends in education in general or in STEM education, specifically for women?

Carter:

Well, you mean in terms of population? Is that what you’re thinking of?

Irvin:

Like are there more women in STEM fields now than when you began your career, or has there been a change in how women are treated? That kind of thing.

Carter:

Oh, I see. I think that it certainly has gotten better at the undergraduate level, not in every field but in many fields. There is parity in a number of STEM fields at the undergraduate level. There is not parity yet at the graduate and postdoc levels, and we are very far from parity at the faculty level. It’s very frustrating.

Irvin:

How could your experiences help someone just entering or contemplating entering a STEM field?

Carter:

I would want to tell someone contemplating entering a STEM field to know that the stereotype of a scientist sitting in a corner as a monk is very outdated, and that the really exciting thing is that a lot of scientific research is collaborative, so it gives you the opportunity to really work as a team. I want people to understand that science and engineering is very creative and just involves these wonderful opportunities for discovery. Especially with respect to engineering, what I want someone whose contemplating going into engineering to understand is that it is just a fantastic place to do meaningful work that positively impacts the world.

Irvin:

What are the steps that young people can take to prepare themselves for their first job?

Carter:

For any kind of job, I would say to be organized, responsible, responsive, and proactive in addition to being technically qualified. Attitude counts for a lot.

Irvin:

If you could go back and change anything in your career or in your life, what would it be?

Carter:

Well, if I could change the fact that my mother died, I would like to do that.

Irvin:

Overall, what is the greatest obstacle you overcame in your career or in life?

Carter:

That’s a good question. I guess I would just say the prejudice that I and many women have faced. Basically, the number of times of experiencing bias, where people assume that you’re not competent just from the get-go if they don’t know who you are is debilitating. I mean, it mostly doesn’t happen to me now because I’m mostly well known. But before, when I wasn’t well known, just the hurt you feel for the way you are treated and judged, how much it basically wears on you and makes you also doubt yourself when people look at you and just assume that you’re not competent. I used to take great joy in opening my mouth and watching the look on their faces when it became clear to them that I wasn’t an idiot.

Irvin:

Overall, what are you most proud of in your career in your life?

Carter:

I would say the way that I have tried to both set an example for others and to encourage and enable the success of others.

Irvin:

Yeah. Well, that is great to hear. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” What are your goals that you will be releasing in the coming years?

Carter:

Well, I don’t know if you know, but I just became the Dean of Engineering at Princeton. So, my goals are centrally around that in addition to continuing to do research. I have a number of goals with respect to the School of Engineering in terms of moving the School into new areas and also with respect to the diversifying the School by making sure that it feels very welcoming to anyone that is interested in engineering.

Awards/Honors

Irvin:

So I know that we are almost out of time. I just have one more question to ask you. You have won many, many prestigious prizes. Are there any that you are particularly proud of, and could you speak to that?

Carter:

I guess the most prestigious is when I was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. I was elected at a fairly young age, and I think that is a moment where you realize that your peers…well not even your peers but people that are more elevated than you are, have decided that you are one of the top scientists in the country. That was extremely meaningful to me.

Conclusion

Irvin:

Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask you that you would like to add?

Carter:

No, I think that’s it. You were very efficient. You got it done.

Irvin:

I wish I could have spent more time talking to you, so I apologize for not getting to everything. Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this oral history interview. We will be contacting you to review the transcript of this interview so that you have the opportunity to make any changes, deletions, and additions. You can even add in new questions and answers if you want to. Meeting you and conducting your oral history interview truly has been my pleasure. It is really great to hear about all of this and thank you very much for your time.

Carter:

You’re very welcome. I think it’s a great thing that you’re doing. It’s a very worthwhile project.

Irvin:

It has been. It really has been.

Carter:

Good. Take care.

Irvin:

Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

Carter:

Bye-bye.