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Women @ Energy: Mary "Molly" Finster

April 30, 2013 - 4:43pm


Mary "Molly" Finster is an Environmental Systems Engineer within the Environmental Sciences Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

Mary "Molly" Finster is an Environmental Systems Engineer within the Environmental Sciences Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

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Mary "Molly" Finster is an Environmental Systems Engineer within the Environmental Sciences Division at Argonne National Laboratory working on a variety of projects for Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, Department of Interior, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Homeland Security, and private sponsors. Molly arrived at Argonne in 2005 as a post-doc, but is now full time staff. With degrees in Chemical Engineering (B.S. and M.S.) and Civil and Environmental Engineering (Ph.D.), her research activities have included conducting human health risk, exposure, and impact assessments; evaluating health-based benchmarks for water and air; integrating scientific data into written materials including clear displays of complex information such as transport, exposure, and toxicity; and incorporating information across multiple disciplines to support environmental impact analyses. Molly is also an active member of Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology  program, specifically helping organize and contribute to the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day and Science Careers in Search of Women events over the last eight years.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

I was fortunate to come from a scientific family – my mother is a college mathematics professor and my father is a civil engineer. So, my parents were always encouraging me to discover and explore all that the different STEM fields had to offer. In school, I really enjoyed (and excelled in) both chemistry and mathematics, so chemical engineering was a logical major for me in college. After I received my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, however, I still wanted to learn and study more. I also was very interested in discovering how I might apply my knowledge towards my growing awareness of environmental issues and overall concern about the environment. Thus, I continued my education in graduate school, where I was able to further explore my existing and broadening interests in both the fields of chemical engineering and environmental engineering. As a practicing environmental engineer, I really like seeing the real world application of my work and knowing that what I do makes a difference.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

I love the variety of opportunities that a national laboratory has to offer, as well as the collaborative atmosphere. With such a wide range of research and projects to choose from, it is hard not to find something you are interested in.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I like to tell young women that you will be good at anything you enjoy, but you sometimes have to try a lot of things to learn what you enjoy! So, it is very important to get yourself out there and learn what interests you. In addition to taking a variety of classes in school, try to seek out and participate in some of the many wonderful STEM events and programs offered around the country that are specifically designed to excite and motivate young women. You never know until you try!

As a nation, I also feel it is important to acknowledge the importance of family and offer flexibility in the workplace. Women have the reputation of trying to have it all – and why shouldn’t we! As engineers and scientists, we are often expected of work long hours. Job flexibility and company sponsored childcare options can help women juggle the demands of work without sacrificing our personal lives.

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

There are so many things you can do with an engineering degree! My main recommendation for young women looking into becoming an engineer (or scientist) would be to participate in as many science, math, and engineering classes and activities as you can. But, do not forget about developing your communication skills along the way. Being a good writer and public speaker will help you get your research out to the world. Also, search for internships, work study jobs, and summer research programs that will not only provide you the opportunity to get some hands on experience, but also help you begin building your personal network.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

When I am not working, I love to spend time with my family. I have 3 children – 6 years, 3.5 years, and 3 months – who keep me very busy! When the weather cooperates, we enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, including biking, swimming, and simply playing with friends. Around the house, cooking has become one of the kids’ favorite activities. We also try to take advantage of the great selection of museums, zoos, and other attractions that Chicago has to offer.