Communication is key — You have to be aware that people think differently than you. I had to learn very quickly how to alter presentations for different audiences. Honestly, I’m still learning and attempting to gain insight from anyone who is willing to give me feedback. My job also very much relies on teamwork. Hence, communicating effectively fuels success.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Duchscherer.
Sam Duchscherer possesses bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mathematics from the University of North Georgia and University of Tennessee, respectively. While spending four years as a research associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tennessee), she found her passion for data science. Sam is now tackling the manufacturing industry as a data scientist at Bosch (Anderson, South Carolina). With her strong educational background and work experience in both research and industry, Sam has quickly built a competitive reputation in the data science realm. Colleagues love Sam’s contagious energy and her ability to consistently leverage the power of data science and teamwork.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been very fortunate to always have strong role models for mathematics. At a young age, my parents always stressed the importance of my math homework. I then had phenomenal mathematics professors at both universities. My mentors at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, specifically Robert Stewart and Marie Urban, later accelerated and transformed my mathematical skill set into a data science career by giving me challenging, data-driven projects. I quickly realized that exploring data as a data scientist can be really interesting, and it’s easy to be drawn to something you find enjoyable.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I got to see my team’s hard work pay off. It’s one thing to mathematically analyze millions of data points to determine ideal parameters for a particular machine by implementing various data science methods. However, to see the impact in terms of scrap reduction was truly rewarding. Following a four-month project, I was able to see an 80% reduction in scrap and 90% reduction in setup time — translating to significant annual savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At Bosch, we use a lot of acronyms to represent job titles, departments, projects, and more. I made a fool of myself a few times pretending like I knew them all. To be honest, I still don’t know them all. However, I’m now not afraid to admit when I don’t know an acronym, or anything else for that matter.
Even something as silly as an acronym, it’s the realization that you have to admit you have a knowledge gap before you can improve. Thankfully, Bosch fosters a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My father used to tell me that it’s not necessarily what you do at a job but who you are doing it with. It’s the people that make the Bosch Anderson plant stand out. I admire my supervisor for constantly pushing me to be better. Everyone within my group makes me strive to work harder and faster. Other co-workers also make it fun to brainstorm ideas. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by and learning from great individuals.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I think any data-driven project is exciting. Breaking down preconceived notions with data science can always help a company achieve operational excellence. Leveraging data science to make better-informed decisions and improve existing processes is an approach that many at Bosch Anderson have embraced as a way to do our jobs better and more efficiently. Currently, I’m unraveling the complex dynamics of a plasma sprayer and bonding process. Coating parts with a plasma sprayer makes them more durable and prevents cracking. It’s important for the amount of the coating thickness to be just right — in other words not sprayed on too thick or too thin. Machine learning and anomaly detection can help with this optimal thickness setting. Looking for process deviation can also help with investigating whether certain parameters affect an intricate bonding process.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’ve had an easier time than the women who have come before me. I recognize progress has been made, and I’m truly thankful. For example, the Bosch Anderson plant has our own strong female organizational leaders who are a great inspiration. To me, that’s important to identify and appreciate.
However, I’m not satisfied. Every woman should say they are not satisfied. We shouldn’t get complacent because things are “better than before.” The data clearly shows there is still a gender gap in STEM fields. Let’s all define success and satisfaction when there is, in fact, gender equality in STEM. In order to improve, we need to continue to recognize this is as a problem and rally behind prioritizing this issue within companies.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
This is a good question. Unfortunately, many things come to mind, but I’ll focus on one that is very personal to me.
First, I would like to acknowledge that any individual, male or female, can question their success, question their worth. We are all human. However, I am in a constant internal debate between the following two inquiries: Am I being praised because my work speaks for itself? Or am I being praised because my work is great for a female?
The difference is subtle, but important. Sometimes I wish gender was removed from the equation. Let me work hard and show that I am a competent data scientist. Period. My gender shouldn’t be considered in that statement. However, we all have to be careful by attempting to remove gender from the equation. I want success to be acknowledged without stressing gender, yet still recognizing the gender gap in STEM. It’s a challenging goal.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One myth is that it’s lonely being a woman in STEM. Although sometimes it’s defeating to think you are the sole woman of the group, my experience has been that there are many supporters for women in STEM. I’ve constantly had other women reach out to me since working in this field, just letting me know that I’m not alone. It’s also not just other women. Many of my male counterparts have been very inclusive and great allies.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Communication is key — You have to be aware that people think differently than you. I had to learn very quickly how to alter presentations for different audiences. Honestly, I’m still learning and attempting to gain insight from anyone who is willing to give me feedback. My job also very much relies on teamwork. Hence, communicating effectively fuels success.
- Celebrate the quick wins — This keeps you motivated and builds momentum.
- Always keep learning — Data science is a constantly growing field. Learning new skills or ideas allows me to stay competitive. It allows me to grow.
- Network — There will always be different knowledge and experience outside your internal circle. Networking can open doors and improve various aspects in your organization.
- Have fun — I’ve found it easier to get things accomplished when a group is excited. Also, take a second and consider how much time we actually spend at work. It’s a huge portion of our lives. Life is too short not to smile.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Always be an active listener. Listening is very powerful. It allows all individuals to feel like they are valued and have a stake in any situation. Listening builds successful strategies.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Build an environment that allows anyone to feel comfortable to speak up. Fostering this type of environment goes hand in hand with the importance of listening and the acknowledgement of diversity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve always strived to say thank you to the individuals that have helped me along the way. I’ve listed them in other answers before even getting to this particular question. Although they deserve more than a simple thank you, I do plan to send them this article to say thank you again.
My parents specifically have been instrumental in all my accomplishments. They worked hard so I could have every opportunity in life, and they also set a great example that has really helped me make wise decisions.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Data science is cool. Data science is exciting. Data science enlightens and motivates individuals. I’m aware that sounds very cheesy, but I would definitely define my ability to build contagious excitement and motivation a step in the right direction for bringing goodness to the world.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to somehow generate more awareness for science (advancements in medical sciences, engineering, and geology), history (how far women and other minorities have come), and culture differences (beliefs and practices make us all unique and understanding this helps build relationships). I truly believe knowledge is power, and some issues in our own communities are due to a lack of information.
Personally, volunteering for programs in Central and South America broadened my attentiveness. Traveling and/or volunteering in diverse areas is not the sole solution to ignorance, but it can play a big part.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Thomas A. Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Working in manufacturing is difficult. Due to making a majority of good parts, I have to constantly look for the needle in the haystack. Embracing the positives keeps me sane.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is truly a remarkable individual. Her voice and leadership style are powerful. Jacinda has managed to make New Zealand a world leader on various issues (e.g., gun control and COVID-19) while initially being doubted for her age and inexperience. I wish she knew that her soothing messages have even resonated with a 28-year-old data scientist living in rural Anderson, SC, USA. I believe I could learn a lot from her in a short breakfast.