I am the professional events manager for the UNM Society of Women Engineers (SWE). In this role, I have had some really cool opportunities to meet local professionals and organize networking events. One of these events was a Tech Talk panel with three engineers from Sandia National Laboratories.

This year SWE has strengthened its relationship with the Sandia Women Action Network (SWAN). This is one of the organizations within the national lab that their employees can choose to join outside of work. (Think extracurricular activity for your career instead of school). SWAN has collaborated with SWE at a casual networking event during one of our first meetings and provided our members with a one-on-one resume review.

This meeting, Blythe Clark, a senior manager in semiconductors and optical sciences, Whitney Ingram, an R&D staff member in microelectronics, and Justine Saugen, an R&D staff member in microsystems took time out of their day to talk during the meeting. This was the third big event I organized, and I was so excited to be the panel moderator.

I started off by asking the panelists to talk about the university they graduated, their major, and their research now. I asked about their favorite part of their job and for more information on SWAN and how might that relate to us in SWE. At the end, we had a few questions on how you choose graduate schools and how do you reach a management role within Sandia.

First off, being a panel moderator was a lot harder than I thought. My only experience was attending panels at SWE conferences and trying to copy what happened there. I think the hardest part was that you have to adapt to the conversation fairly quickly. I had a bunch of general questions written out before. As the conversation progressed, however, I needed to start asking other questions that were more applicable to the topic at hand.

Another challenging part was knowing when to keep the talk on track. Part of the role of a moderator is to recognize when a panelist is running out of things to say and to help out by leading the conversation somewhere else. I think I was a little too excited to hear from them and got lost in the conversation myself. It was really awesome to hear from them on what Sandia has done to support their careers.

I also asked too many questions all at once. I think in the future, I want to keep my questions as slow tosses. Since it was hard to really know what direction the conversation might go, I tried to ask many specific questions to cover it all. It all worked out in the long run. I got to crack a few jokes and I was really happy that I got to listen to the panelists’ advice. I even got a little experience under my belt and made a more meaningful connection with the professionals.