Teresa's story is the latest in our Changemakeher Career Stories, where we interview incredible women creating powerful change in their respective fields about their stories and share their advice on how you can do the same. One of the biggest factors as to why exactly girls tend to shy away from fields such as STEM, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership roles is quite simply that there is often not enough representation. After all, it’s a lot harder to become something you can’t see. So, here at Changemakeher, one of the ways we’re working to change that by interviewing amazing women out there, and showing that you’re just as capable of doing things like them!
So, without further ado, let us introduce to you: Teresa Tang!
Tell us about your story and what you do day-to-day!
Hi! I’m Teresa Tang and I’m currently a Chemistry major pursuing a liberal arts degree at Princeton University in the US, graduating in June 2018. I was born and raised in Australia in a Mandarin-speaking household, so I grew up bilingual and always had a love of languages. I’m fluent in English and Mandarin, speak conversational Japanese and am learning Korean and Esperanto. My first achievement in the STEM field was coming 1st in Queensland for ICAS Mathematics in Year 5, and that spurred my interest in a series of mathematics competitions throughout the rest of my primary school and high school career.
I spent many summers of my childhood inventing things and building Rube Goldberg machines, so science and engineering were definitely where my interests lay. During my five years at Brisbane State High School I took a lot of STEM classes and avidly participated in almost every single science competition. In Year 10 I entered the Brain Bee neuroscience competition and with no prior experience in neuroscience, and spent the next 1.5 years self-studying the subject and advancing through the various levels of the competition until I represented Australia at the International Brain Bee in South Africa, where I earned the title of World Champion 2012. My initially mindless registration in this competition ended up granting me possibilities I had never previously foreseen, and I was lucky enough to start taking on various neuroscience internships while still in high school.
More importantly, this international experience got me thinking about expanding my horizons and applying to college overseas. It was a very stressful process since I didn’t have any footsteps to follow in, but somehow after a lot of hard work I was admitted to Princeton University, where the past three years have been full of huge ups and huge downs. In a place where the majority of your fellow students were duxes of their respective high schools, where most of the domestic students already had advanced placement credits, where everyone seemed so accomplished and successful, I felt very average and struggled tremendously with imposter syndrome.
But academic struggles made me realize that I didn’t have to define myself by my grades. I started branching out more and tried activities including ballroom dancing, taekwondo and copy-editing, and took on various mentorship and leadership roles in other organizations. I have become a completely different person thanks to my college experience, and I’ve learnt to thrive instead of wither in this incredible atmosphere.
These days I take classes and conduct independent research in my chemistry lab, while working as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry. My literal and figurative home on campus is in my eating club, which is a community of people who eat and socialize together much like a cross between a co-ed fraternity and a dining hall. I currently serve as Community Chair of my club, where I get to reciprocate the love that I received from this community of wonderful people. Princeton has taught me to come out of my shell, and realize that what makes me happiest is seeing others benefit from the result of my efforts.
How did you get to where you are today?
People say that your personality is the combination of the five people you spend the most time with. So I try to surround myself with people who are rays of sunshine who lift me up and inject optimism into my days. Life is never smooth sailing, and I don’t know where I’d be without my support network. But sometimes it’s necessary to seek professional help, and that’s okay. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you have the courage to take the required steps to being in a better place. Counselling has definitely helped me and I encourage everyone to break the stigma surrounding mental health and seek help without shame.
What advice would you give to young girls looking to get into your field of work?
I am currently a Chemistry major but it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, I’ve switched my major twice at Princeton and do not intend to go into the chemical field after I graduate. I’d spent my whole life thinking I would get a PhD in some scientific discipline and it was so scary realizing that that was not what I wanted and having to face the reality of making a career change right before my last year of college. But one of most important mottos I live by is “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” So I’m going to spend my last year of college trying to get a job in product management in the tech industry instead of taking the safe path of going to graduate school and avoiding the real world. Regardless of whether you’re still in school or already working, it’s never too late to take a risk and change direction.
All in all: don’t let fear stand between where you are and where you want to go.
What would you do if you were 18 and about to graduate today?
Hopefully I would be on track to going to college or work, and I would try my best to learn everything I could in the next few years to prepare myself for what’s ahead. I would get out and see what people actually do in my profession of interest to make sure I’m not setting myself up for something I don’t actually want. You will probably change your mind about what you want to do, and that’s okay. Just promise yourself that you will always be working slowly but surely towards where you want to go, even if that path is slow or scary.
Why do you think women are under-represented in your field and the broader workplace?
For me, my biggest barrier to moving forwards is myself. A lack of confidence, being female and being Asian have made me feel unqualified or lacking in various organizations and this is a problem that I have acknowledged and am working on fixing. Part of this fear comes from knowing that there exist assumptions about women, particularly in STEM, and being afraid of playing into and confirming these stereotypes.
Have you experienced any push-back for being a woman in your field? If so, how do you deal with that?
Growing up I was usually one of very few, if not the only female in my STEM activities. It was somewhat frustrating to not be surrounded by other women, but at the same time there was a sense of pride for breaking the stereotype of male-dominated fields. If there is no role model to follow, then sometimes you have to strive to be that role model for yourself and for women who will come after you.
Where can girls find you? (social media pages, businesses, website)