Oral-History:Mildred Dresselhaus

About Mildred Dresselhaus

Mildred Dresselhaus was born in the Bronx, New York in 1930. She graduated from Hunter College and continued her education at Cambridge University under a Fulbright scholarship. Dresselhaus then returned to the US to finish her postgraduate degree at Radcliffe College and the University of Chicago. Her research on carbon-based materials has been instrumental to the development of solid state electronics. Dresselhaus passed away on February 20th, 2017.

In this interview, Dresselhaus reflects on her childhood, initial interest in engineering, and experiences as a professional. She also considers how her early involvement in engineering was influenced by gender.

About the Interview

MILDRED DRESSELHAUS: An Interview Conducted by Kelsey Irvin, IEEE History Center, 11 July 2013

Interview # 650 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

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

Mildred Dresselhaus, an oral history conducted in 2013 by Kelsey Irvin, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Mildred Dresselhaus
INTERVIEWER: Kelsey Irvin
DATE: 11 July 2013
PLACE: Air Force Institute of Technology (Dayton, Ohio)

Introduction

Irvin:

Dr. Dresselhaus, I would like to welcome you to your oral history interview. We hope to learn the significant 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 any other question keeping in mind that you will be able to edit the transcript and add or delete anything you would like.

Early Life and Education

Irvin:

So let's go ahead and start off by talking a little bit about your early life and education. Can I first have you state your full name and date and place of birth?

Dresselhaus:

So Mildred Dresselhaus is my legal name. My place of birth?

Irvin:

Yes.

Dresselhaus:

Oh I was born in a hospital in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York on November 11th, 1930.

Irvin:

Did you grow up in Brooklyn?

Dresselhaus:

No. We moved from Flatbush where I was born. I don't remember the very early years. I was an infant at the time. We moved from Flatbush to a location that was very close to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge when I was a baby. I remember the Brooklyn Bridge from a photo. I remember walking on the Brooklyn Bridge. That was daily exercise.

Irvin:

(Laughs) Yes.

Dresselhaus:

A memorable place.

Irvin:

You were born during the Great Depression. Do you remember anything about your early childhood and about that time period?

Dresselhaus:

Well, life was tough. Generally, it was tough for everyone - bad economic situation. We had prosperity in the US during the 1920's and then there was all of a sudden, "bang." I was born right after the bang.

Irvin:

So can you tell me a little about your childhood? What was your schooling like in elementary school and in high school?

Dresselhaus:

Well we moved to the Bronx when I was about 4 years old. I have some memories of the Brooklyn Bridge and then I have early memories of the Bronx. The Bronx, I remember, was a very poor neighborhood but that was all that immigrants could afford at that time. Life was tough. I grew up - my father didn't have a job but there weren't too many people who did have jobs. People that didn't have jobs had relief. Relief is a kind of welfare. You got a check which just provided sustenance, keeping people alive. Well, that was what it was, and there are people like that nowadays too.

Irvin:

Oh, of course.

Dresselhaus:

Then it was more common. There were more people like that during the Great Depression. Lots of people like that. We had schools and the schools were in the neighborhood. The schools were good and bad. They had teachers that were leftover from before. The teachers started their careers when we had prosperity. But the teachers were well trained and there were very devoted to the kids. Then as the depression got more and more severe, the kind of people that were around were more and more needy and less and less able to provide much for themselves. That's what it was as I recall the situation. I remember some aspects of that. So the quality of the teaching was pretty bad. The kids were very unruly and the teachers really could not control them. The teachers were used to something else when they had started their careers and then the neighborhood changed and the teachers were still there from before and they didn't know how to deal with the new kids. That's what I remember.

Irvin:

You are talking about during high school and elementary school here?

Dresselhaus:

No, no. High school was a totally different thing. So I am talking about schooling through Jr. High school where I still was in a neighborhood school. Then a miracle happened. Then I got into Hunter High and Hunter High was a totally different situation.

Irvin:

What was that like?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I went from the worst schools to the best schools. New York City is a strange place. It has both the worst education, I suppose - I don't know if it's the worst, but pretty bad - and then it has these special schools. So you have probably heard of the Bronx High School of Science?

Irvin:

Yes.

Dresselhaus:

Okay, that's a pretty well-known school. That's a special school. Not everybody can get in there. You have to get in there by examination so it is only for the lucky few. Okay. But that school wasn't open for girls. That school was only for boys at the time I was in high school. It opened for girls about 5 years after I had graduated from high school. I know a person that was in the first class of girls that made it into the Bronx High School of Science. But it was not open to girls in my day. But there was one special school for girls, and that was Hunter High. That was the one I attended. That was in New York City far from my home. That was at 69th St. and Lexington – 68th street, maybe 67th street actually. I’m changing my location. 67th I think would be the right address – and Lexington Avenue. That’s where it was located. We took the train to get there. New York City has trains. They had trains then and they have trains today. That is pretty definite and clear. So that is how I got there in the morning. At least in the beginning when I went there, which was right after the war years, high school classes were only in the morning. In the afternoons they used the school for the GIs who were coming back from the war. They used it for training. The girls, who were the normal occupants of the school, were, at least in the beginning, only there in the morning. Then we had lots of homework. It kept us busy in the afternoon.

Irvin:

Yeah. That can take up the rest of the day.

Dresselhaus:

Yeah they made it such that we were not without. But it was a fabulous school. It took me into the top leagues right then. That’s where I stayed. It was a totally transformative experience.

Irvin:

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

Dresselhaus:

Well, I was. I was exposed to that at this school although that wasn’t their focus. Their focus was liberal arts, not science or math. However, math and science were okay. After going there, the natural thing was to go to the college which was right at the back of the high school. The high school was on Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue is one block away so if you just go to the back of the school and go right across the alley a couple feet then you were in the college.

Irvin:

So you went to Hunter College?

Dresselhaus:

I went to Hunter College, yeah because if you went to the high school you were automatically enrolled in the college. You didn’t have any entrance exam or anything. If you passed out through the high school satisfactorily you were in the college. The college focused on providing teachers for the whole city. The main major was education.

Irvin:

What was your major?

Dresselhaus:

Well that’s the thing. I started out to be a schoolteacher. Almost everyone started out that way. Then, once you are in the college then you find out what college has to offer. This is true at all colleges. It’s true at MIT, where I am now. When the students enter they don’t have much idea what the university has to offer. Then they get acquainted and they get into a new world. Right? That’s normal. The same thing happened at Hunter College.

Irvin:

So what did you teach when you became a teacher after Hunter College?

Dresselhaus:

I didn’t teach at all.

Irvin:

Oh, you didn’t? Okay.

Dresselhaus:

No. I didn’t really finish that program. I sort of got transformed and became a liberal arts major which was the other option. But I took all the math, physics, chemistry, and those kinds of courses that were offered. It wasn’t that much, but that’s what I took. I liked that, and I wanted to do more of that. So the next step after that was I got a Fulbright fellowship. That was kind of miraculous. That was the very beginning of the Fulbright program because nobody knew about what it was but I applied for it because it was an interesting to apply for.

Irvin:

How did you find out about the program?

Dresselhaus:

A notice on the bulletin board. I applied and I was one of the lucky winners. So that brought me to Cambridge University in the UK. So that was a big jump from Hunter College. There I became sort of acquainted with college life. So that was going from a teaching college to a university.

Irvin:

So what did you study at Cambridge?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I studied everything. I didn’t know what I should be studying. Everything was so interesting. I took a little bit of this and that. You know, whatever. I attended very many lectures. So I decided at that point that I wanted to do physics. So physics was a pretty much popular thing right after WWII you know? It won the war for the U.S. so it was a high-profile field and very competitive. I thought I would try it and so that's what I entered. I entered it not because I was particularly good at it, but because I was interested in it. So that's a good reason.

Irvin:

It really is. Doing what you love is more important than most any other decision when you are deciding what to study.

Dresselhaus:

Yeah. So it was interesting and I got into it. I have never been unhappy about having made that decision. That was a good decision for me. So that kind of launched me. Then, eventually, I went to the University of Chicago, where I really learned physics. That was a rigorous program and if you went through that you had a good training. So that was good training. Good training is important for what you do later on.

Irvin:

So were you one of the only women in a lot of your physics classes at all of your schools?

Dresselhaus:

Yeah. Well, physics doesn't have women. It didn't have women then and it still doesn't have women. So that hasn't changed that much in all these years. We try to work at it, but it doesn't seem to stick.

Irvin:

So was your Ph.D. from University Chicago in physics?

Dresselhaus:

Yes.

Irvin:

What part of your education do you think was most beneficial to your eventual career?

Dresselhaus:

Well, it's hard to say. The Chicago experience was good. It was a rigorous examination system that made sure we knew something. Then, the Ph.D. thesis part was very much individualistic. You had to do it yourself. You were the only author on the publication that counted for a grade. So you really were on your own. I think that's a good experience. We don't have anything like that today and it's not possible today because students need some guidance. The reason for it is a lot of research that has been done in the 1950's shows that you need some guidance on what are the interesting problems and how to go about them, help with learning techniques. That wasn't so well organized in my time period. People did everything on their own, reinvented the wheel. That's not bad, because you learn a lot right? At some point. Failures are an important part of learning. But, people don't like to fail.

Irvin:

What did you write your thesis on?

Dresselhaus:

On magnetic phenomenon and super conductivity. That's sort of what it was about. It was something that my particular topic was special. Every topic is special and unique. It is always something that hasn't been done before. My thesis was on an effect that people didn't understand at the time. I didn't understand it and neither did anybody else. Discovering something that nobody understands is pretty interesting. Even more interesting if the work later turned out to be important; I think my thesis didn't turn out to be all that important. At that time of discovery it wasn't known whether my thesis was important or unimportant. So it was like that. It landed me a job because people were curious about what I had done.

Career

Irvin:

What was the job?

Dresselhaus:

Well, that was my job at Lincoln Lab.

Irvin:

Oh, okay. That was your first job after your education?

Dresselhaus:

That was my first job. Well, I had a postdoc, but the postdoc wasn't very much and it wasn't very fruitful. Those days, you did a postdoc by yourself. Nowadays, it's different. Somebody gives you a suggested topic and it's like a learning experience. But in my case, it was not like that. I didn't have a supervisor; I didn't have anybody interested in what I was doing. So it wasn't that productive. But, anyways, it got me to the point of getting my first independent job which was productive. Everything else since then has been productive.

Irvin:

How long did you work at Lincoln Lab?

Dresselhaus:

7 years.

Irvin:

What kind of projects did you work on there? What was your role?

Dresselhaus:

Well, this is the beginning of magneto-optics on conducting materials. Everybody else was working on semi-conductors, and I was working on small gap semi-conductors that kind of had been overlapped so they were kind of metallic. Or semi-metallic. They were different from - I was doing something different from everybody else. It is good to do something different.

Irvin:

Were you, again, one of the few women working there?

Dresselhaus:

Yes, that's right. But that wasn't a big issue for me. It was like I was the person working, not a woman working.

Irvin:

What happened after you worked at the Lincoln Laboratory? Where did you work after?

Dresselhaus:

Well, it was a big lab. Sometimes a good thing happens, sometimes bad things happen. The science of what happens is not clear sometimes. The deciding factor, in my case, was pretty silly. The lab director of Lincoln Lab for some reason decided that the important thing was that employees had to show up at 8 o'clock in the morning. So you figure out why that was important. But, by the time the lab director made that decision I had 4 children and the youngest was born in 1964, the oldest was born in 1959. So that gives you the time frame. I got started in Lincoln Lab in 1960. So at that time I had one small baby. Actually, I had two. Well, one was born in 1961, so I had one plus. The last one came in 1964 and I was at Lincoln Lab from 1960-1967. So, halfway through that period was the end of my babies. So I had a baby boom period and then I had a raising babies situation. So that was kind of what my life was like in the early days at Lincoln. This curfew of 8 o'clock was really tough on me, so I was always late at work. That wasn't appreciated. So I had to figure out a way to get around my problem, and so what happened that allowed me to get around my problem was a donation by the Rockefeller family for a female professor at MIT.I was suggested, or nominated, for being that person. I took that on. That's how I started in the faculty here.

Irvin:

What different classes have you taught there?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I taught solid-state physics courses for engineering students when I started teaching in 1967. And I basically taught that course until I retired in some format. The field changed dramatically year-by-year and so my course changed year-by-year but it always had the same name and the same goal for training the next generation of science based engineers. The content was different but the title was the same.

Irvin:

When did you retire?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I retired when I was 75 years old.

Irvin:

So 2005?

Dresselhaus:

2005. So I taught over 50 years - 55 years. I was there for a long time.

Awards/Honors

Irvin:

So throughout your career you've received a lot of distinguished awards and honors. It was recorded that you were awarded the National Medal of Science in 1990 for your work on electric properties of materials as well as expanding opportunities for women in physics and engineering. How exactly were you expanding opportunities for women at this time?

Dresselhaus:

Well that was just a side project. What I noticed was the number of women students at MIT went from 4% when I entered - so that was a very, very small number that were at MIT. So they went from that tiny, tiny number to just about 50%. I think it was 48% at our last report. The growth of the number of women students was very dramatic but what they were studying was different from what the men were studying. The majors they selected were different. So they were heavily into biology and things related to that, even chemistry. But not physics. Not physics and not engineering.

Irvin:

What do you think led to such a huge growth in the amount of women?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I think that were two things. I think that the administration promoted it, but I think that the women who were there worked hard with the administration to support growth, and we had programs to help the young women who were appointed so that they would be successful. What we discovered in the early years when they were appointed was that for the most part they were unsuccessful. That required or seemed to indicate that there was a cultural factor that had to be taken care of. I was working on that and that's what the award just mentioned. Well, by analyzing what keeps women away from these fields of science and showing them that they can do it too and helping them along, showing them the paths that work better than others. It has something to do with women working in a male culture.

Irvin:

More recently, I believe in 2010, you won the American Chemical Society's Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.

Dresselhaus:

I didn't really do a whole lot in the chemical sciences. I got the award but maybe it was in physical chemistry that I had some impact, but I wouldn't say it was across all fields of chemistry.

Irvin:

So more physics?

Dresselhaus:

Well, yeah. I wasn't working in particular for chemistry. The chemists decided to give me that award. So, I don't know what you say about that. Sure, in fact my work relates to chemistry because I do spectroscopy and chemists do a lot of spectroscopy, so there is some connection there.

Irvin:

So throughout your career, what professional organizations have you been a member of, or are a member of now?

Dresselhaus:

Well, I have always been a member of a physics organization that's called the American Physical Society. It is sort of the preeminent physical society worldwide. If you want to be in physics, you join the American Physical Society no matter where you live because historically they run good meetings, organize the journals that everybody publishes in. What happened basically, historically, is that WWII decimated a large part of the world and it took years before the Europeans really got their act together. After WWII, it took a long time for science to recover. Europe had been the seed of science when I started studying science. Then it got sort of all messed up by WWII and it took a long time for it to recover and during that time Americans put in money, and we didn't have war atmosphere here. We never had war locally during my lifetime. So science flourished because it was a peaceful place to work and the government put money into it. Simple as that. So people moved from a war time Europe in the 40's and 50's and 60's maybe. That's what happened. U.S. science grew and prospered and we had industry that took over and made money and made all kinds of science related products. The US had the environment that was necessary for science to flourish.

Irvin:

So what would you say you have gained from being a member of the American Physical Society? A lot of connections to people?

Dresselhaus:

I guess so. Well I was President of the society in 1984. That was a very long time ago, right? I didn't plan to run for president but somehow I was nominated and I said, "Well, why not?" I was expecting to lose I wasn't expecting to win the election. I thought running and losing is a good thing - not a bad thing. But I didn't lose, I won and I had to do the work. That turned out to be pretty interesting and I turned out to be pretty good at it. So one thing led to another, so I was president of several organizations.

Irvin:

Which organizations have you been president of?

Dresselhaus:

I don't know. Look at my C.V. I was president of AAAS; that was a big one. I was president of various things. I was head of the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics. I did that job too. I did various things - most of the main ones that are around.

Gender Related

Irvin:

Now that we've talked a little about your career, one of the things that we are particularly interested in for this interview, as you know, is that challenges of being a women in STEM fields. So what issues have you experienced in STEM fields because of your gender. How have you overcome those issues?

Dresselhaus:

I would say in physics the issues are that there are very few of us. The positive thing is that the women support each other very strongly in physics. We tend to know each other because we are very few in number. People are nice to each other and give each other tips on things happening. It’s a little bit like that. The other part is that there are always challenges. In any kind of position you have within an organization there is work to be done. Leadership is expected and we are supposed to do good things for the profession and to figure out how to make that all happen at minimum cost and overhead, so to speak. That's kind of what the job is about. That's what I tried to do. You will always have some kind of administrative support that comes through the organization of people who are permanently employed in administrative jobs. I found those people helpful. Part of the leadership came through our national academies in the US which do a lot of work in providing studies for the government on any topic the government is interested in knowing something about. So I've been an academy member since a long time back. I was elected back in 1974 to the National Academy of Engineering. That's a long time ago. I was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985, which is also a pretty long time ago. I had various jobs. I was on the council; I was an officer in the academy. I was lots of things, studies, whatnot. So I got to know people in government and they got to know me. It’s a combination of the university that I'm part of that promotes all of that kind of thing. They liked that we are active in those kinds of national leadership activities. That's how it all happened, pretty much. I'm not doing it now. What happened was when I was working for the government, I was head of the Office of Science of the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration. When you do something like that you have to disrobe yourself. You have to give up everything you've done on a voluntary basis so there is no conflict of interest with anything. I don't know if you know that, but that's how it works in the government. Then when I finished my term of office, I didn't go back to taking on all of those duties again. Let somebody else do them. I've done my share of them. So I went back to being just a researcher, doing my MIT job which I like and I'm still doing it.

Irvin:

What research are you working on now?

Dresselhaus:

Pretty much similar things to what I have been doing for a long time. So I'm on carbon research - nanocarbons. When I started in 1960, nobody was interested in that field. Now it's one of the most popular fields out there. So I'm busy with that. I give many, many talks on this topic worldwide. The other thing that has happened is people are interested in energy and energy security. For one reason or another I've been involved with that kind of research. I do that. Right now that's the other area I've been doing for the last 20 years. Those are my two research areas. I even put them together to some degree.

Irvin:

So kind of going back to some of our more gender-related questions, you mentioned that you'd had four kids during from 1959-1964. Did you feel there was additional pressure to balance that professional life with your personal and family life?

Dresselhaus:

Well, once you get into it, you just do it. I had a formula. I had a babysitter whom I hired. When I wasn't at home, she was there and helped take care of the children to raise them. But, you know, with children after 20 years they leave home, right? So then you go on. So my child-rearing time is a long time ago. My children are in their fifties. They don't need my daily supervision any more.

Irvin:

Do you have any advice for a woman who is in a demanding career such as yours, or such as anything in STEM fields, and wants to start or maintain a family life?

Dresselhaus:

You have to figure out a formula that works for you. Everybody has a different formula. There is no way to say that this is the right formula because there is no right formula. It's not easy for anybody to manage to do two sort of full-time jobs simultaneously. If you decide that you want to do it, you do it. You figure out a way that works for you. It always means that you have to cover your bases. When the children are small you have to have somebody there to help you with taking care of them and making sure that they are well-cared for one way or another. That is what the special thing is. It's not totally symmetric between men and women. So if you want to know what's different it is that women take a larger share of child-rearing and responsibility. If anything goes wrong with the kids at school it's always the mother's fault, not the father's fault, right? So that's the way it is and that's the way our society has it figured out. That's what you're subject to. You figure out a way to get your kids a good background and take care of their needs and each of them separately and differently. That's what you have to figure out.

Irvin:

How have you seen women's role in STEM field's change over the years, since you started your career to now?

Dresselhaus:

I would say it depends on where you are. I've been lucky. I've been at a place that's a meritocracy. It doesn't really matter that much what your gender is if you do the work well. I think women benefit from being in places and having positions where the quality of work is the criteria, not what you look like. Not every place is like that. I would say that is one factor.

Irvin:

Do you think it is largely academic environments that are more accepting towards women and more of a meritocracy?

Dresselhaus:

Not necessarily. I think there are people who work in industry that say that industry is much easier than academia for women. I wouldn't say that's true and I don't know if that's true or not true. It depends on the particular situation I think more than necessarily the place. Once there have been a number of people who have proven some kind of existence theorem and there is a pathway identified and shown how to overcome any obstacles because of gender, then we have it made. I think it's the early birds in this nature who have the biggest challenge. I don't know if that's true but I think it's probably true. I think people like you know that better than I do. You've probably studied the sociology of it.

Irvin:

So are you saying that you think it's getting better?

Dresselhaus:

Of course it's getting better and the reason is there are more people going through the process and showing pathways of how it can be done. So in this way it is getting better. There are more of us. It used to be there was almost none and now there are more of us. To say that it's equal, I'm not sure if that's true or not. You probably know that better than I do.

Irvin:

I think maybe it's approaching. It's not completely there yet, but it's definitely in the right trend.

Dresselhaus:

Yeah. I would say that too. It looks like that to me. The young people that I mentor and try to prepare them for careers in science are less apprehensive than they used to be. They see that they can do it somehow, and they do it.

Irvin:

What skills do you think are necessary to take on leadership roles, specifically in STEM fields?

Dresselhaus:

Knowledge of your field. Being able to do the work that has to be done is the first criteria. I think that we have to see that women have as good of preparation as men. There is no reason that shouldn't happen because we go through the same schools and the same processes so we should be able to gain that mastery. The second thing is examples that can be done and we have enough of those now, so it's getting easier workable pathways. The percentage of women keeps rising so that's positive. Everything is in favor of increased opportunities. When you look around there are ads for people with technical skills. Right? It's easier to get a job if you know something than if you don't. So that is a plus and there is no reason why women can't learn these skills. They do.

Reflection/Advice

Irvin:

So now I would like to ask you a few questions to reflect on your career and give some advice before we conclude the interview. What would you say is your favorite job? Not necessarily a position, maybe a specific project you worked on.

Dresselhaus:

Well, I think that's the position I have. I think most people you would ask would say what they are doing is their favorite position because that's what they have moved into. They know it and they like what they're doing. Otherwise, they would look for something else to do.

Irvin:

And that would be the physics research at MIT?

Dresselhaus:

Yeah, I think. It's very hard to imagine a better position than what I have. I have a very good environment. I have very nice colleagues that know a lot of things. If I wanted to find out anything, there is some expert on any X, Y, or Z, thing that I might be interested to ask people about. People are willing to spend time to explain things to me. That's a nice aspect of it.

Irvin:

Having had such a successful career in education, have you seen any notable trends in education in general or in STEM education?

Dresselhaus:

We are going through a revolution right now that I think many of us don't understand. That has to do with the fact that we have computers around. Computers can be used for many things including education. You can have the role of the professors changing. In terms of the research function, that doesn't change. That one is pretty clear. But which aspects to teach students are changing because maybe some of the things we used to teach in the classroom can be just as well taught without having a formal classroom. I think that's been developed. Computer learning and this kind of thing. I think what is happening at the moment and will probably take place in the next few years is something that's pretty much new. All these things produce changes and that's the way advances are made. Some people aren't too happy about the changes. Some people are very happy. It's inevitable that we will have change always. We have to adjust to it.

Irvin:

Would you say you are one of the people that are happy with it or unhappy with the technological revolution?

Dresselhaus:

I think it's inevitable. It's fine. We have to benefit from all new technology the best we can?

Irvin:

How could your experiences in the field of physics help someone who is just entering or contemplating entering a STEM field or the field of physics?

Dresselhaus:

I don't fully understand your question, but nowadays it's not that different from what it used to be. As I was saying, the research aspect is very similar to what it used to be. You just have more technology to help us move faster. Everything, discoveries are faster. But the human mind doesn't change that much. So we are still coping with our own capabilities and limitations.

Irvin:

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

Dresselhaus:

I don't think I would change very much. I think it all progressed pretty well. I'm pretty happy with the progression. I don't know that I'd change anything.

Irvin:

That's good.

Dresselhaus:

I don't know if it's good but -

Irvin:

No it's good to be happy with where you are and know that the decisions you've made have led you to there.

Dresselhaus:

Well, it evolved this way and I'm happy with the way it evolved. It maybe could have evolved a different way and it would have been - I don't know - better. I don't know what better means. I'm just happy with what I'm doing. If I wasn't happy I would change it.

Irvin:

What would you say is the greatest obstacle that you've overcome in your career?

Dresselhaus:

As we were talking, once I was on the fast track, I think that when I started at Cambridge University that put me on the fast track of international science, and after that it was just following a regular pathway. Once you find your niche where you can be productive, then you are all set. I say that everybody has to find their niche. With time, it could change. Some people after 20 years decide, "I don't want to do this anymore. I'd like to do something different." So they move into something different and they learn how to be good at it and then they function in that mode. You're interviewing people about their careers. I'm sure you find that that happens. With me, I've just evolved and I keep optimizing all the time what I'm doing. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I don't make major changes.

Irvin:

What would you say that you are most proud of in your career or in your life?

Dresselhaus:

I think somebody on the outside evaluate what I've done and says, "This is better than that." But, for me, I don't look at it this way. I do things day-by-day and I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'm happy with discoveries. I get satisfaction out of every paper that I write and by working with all of my collaborators. I have many collaborators worldwide - a very large number - and I enjoy working with them. I look forward to each one of them.

Irvin:

I have a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. She once said that "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Do you have any goals that you still have for the future?

Dresselhaus:

I think that scientists have a goal of discovering the unknown and that's a forever-goal. It keeps you alert and excited about each day. So that's a forever-goal. It's nice to have forever-goals.

Irvin:

Is that something that you have always wanted to do ever since you started your career?

Dresselhaus:

Well, as I said, my life evolves. Science is changing every day, but I'm changing with it and I try to be right there. That's where I want to be.

Irvin:

Is there anything at all that I have neglected to ask you that you would like to discuss or to add?

Dresselhaus:

Not particularly. I know that you emphasized the gender aspect because there are so few of us. I would like to see more women in physics. I think physics is a great career and it's a great career for women also. I don't understand why there aren't more of us. But that is again, something that I don't control.

Irvin:

Would you say there is a trend, not necessarily just in sciences, but in physics specifically, of more women joining physics or do you think it is still kind of stagnant?

Dresselhaus:

Well, if you just look at the statistics the number of women rose but really at very slow, slow rates. I don't know why there is a disparity between women and men and why the participation is so different. But it remains that way. We start out in the freshman physics class. All students at MIT have to take physics. The women students and the men students are all starting at the same time. Those who decide to go into it seriously is a small number and I don't know why.

Irvin:

Thank you, again, so much for participating in this oral history interview. Meeting you and speaking with you has truly been my pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.