T is for Tattoos

I like tattoos. I have 6 and would love to have more. For the most part, they’re hidden because I know that there is a stigma associated with tattoos and I haven’t reached a point in my career where I can comfortably let them “bloom”.

My newest tattoo is on my forearm and dedicated to my daughter, Liana. As someone who overthinks each and every decision in my life, I naturally took over a year to decide that I would get it in a visible spot on my arm. I created a Pinterest board to piece together the concept and asked for opinions before contacting an artist and making an appointment.

Those of you with tattoos: you know the moment right before the artist touches you with the needle? That last chance to change your mind? I literally started sweating because I worried that this was a mistake. But a couple hours later I was looking at my new artwork and so happy that I went through with it.

Fast forward a few weeks to my mom (love ya Mom!) seeing a photo of my arm. I think I got the reaction I expected to be honest.

Why there? Why so big? What are the people at your next job going to think?

The last question had popped into my own head. I admit that I add a lot of value to others’ opinions of me. I always have. Oddly enough the timing of this tattoo wasn’t random. I got it the week after I busted my ass to complete a huge grant application. I got it then because I saw a new side to myself. Completing that application despite a lack of support from my (then) boss was a huge confidence booster. He wasn’t a fan of my ideas, but I was, so I pushed through. It didn’t hurt that I got plenty of positive feedback from others. So even when he did some shady stuff, I pushed through. Not to prove anything to him, but to prove my intelligence and competence to myself in a new way. I DID THAT.

I’m a strong person, that also happens to be a black female scientist with tattoos. You may see those other things first, but my strength will be what you remember. We all value different things, so how can I expect people that I come across to understand everything about me at first glance?

What’s funny is, I changed jobs before ever finding out if I was awarded funding for my project idea. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t worth staying. But that accomplishment will stay with me. Others may see some huge random tattoo on my arm. But I see my amazing daughter. I see my strength that I hope will make her proud. I see a unique me.

2%

Have you heard?

30-year-old Mareena Robinson Snowden is the first black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. She is now part of the 2% of engineers and scientists in the US who are black females. An even smaller percentage are black females who hold terminal degrees. I share this because I know that being part of such a small sector of STEM professionals is overwhelming and can feel pretty lonely. I think of organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which helped me get through Biomedical Engineering in college. What else can we do to encourage minority females to pursue STEM careers? And how do we retain these professionals in this area?

The Switch

I find it odd that the same nurturing qualities that draw people to me are the ones that I’m told to suppress in the professional world. In a sense I get it. Work is work and home is home. Emotions equal weakness and vulnerability and should be reserved for personal situations and matters. And when it comes to being a black woman, heaven help you if you ever get “perturbed” at work…
I feel pressure to flip a switch when I walk into work. No more motherly tendencies. No more sassiness. And definitely NO TEARS. So what happens when my intern is so upset about her roommate situation that she’s crying? What to do when my coworker disrespects me in front of our colleagues? How do I handle someone making disparaging comments about my faith or my race?
All of these things have happened within the past couple weeks and each time I ended up breaking the rules. And I honestly don’t care. I took my intern out to lunch and we talked about what was troubling her. I explained to my colleagues and my boss that I can forgive disrespect but will always address it head on. And I asked why it’s necessary to mock one person in order to prove an unrelated point.
There is peace in being real and representing the true Teena to those around me. While snapping at someone at work is not appropriate, neither is ignoring real life problems that pop up on the job. I can be nice while demanding respect. I can be helpful while drawing clear boundaries. I can be myself. So back off social norms. I’m doing my best!
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Maya Angelou