Friday, November 6, 2015


Two weeks ago, Stanford send me to the Society of Women Engineers National Conference 2015 in Nashville, TN (otherwise known as WE15).

Why go to this conference?! Because it's a great time to be Female AND an Engineer.  Here are some highlights from the conference
                 Energizing                                         Draining
Based on this assessment, you could start to figure out whether a technical path or a managerial path is right for you. 

I also learned that work involves 3 things:
The Work Itself       Work Environment      Where I want to Go
Every few months, it's good to rate these three things on a scale of 1-10 to help you determine whether to stay in a job or maybe start thinking about other options (inside or outside the company).

  • Unique Challenges for Women of Color in STEM: I really enjoyed this talk, because it taught me two things
    • Have a little water with your wineDon't be afraid to be yourself, but maybe tone it down a little. 
    • Your best allies may not look like you. Don't make the assumption that because someone looks like you, it means they'll stand up for you. The vice versa is true.
  • Turning Point - Embrace Your Female Self
    • Know your pillars - Hers were Finances, Fitness, Family, and Faith.
    • Be careful when sharing your dreams with others. They might be jealous. They might be sad. You often can't predict.
    • Listen to a book on the drive to work or 10 pages a night. Reading everyday can be the equivalent to a new degree every few years. 
  • Can we have it all? Being a Mother and Engineer (boy, I just love panels!)
    • You're juggling a lot of balls in the air. You gotta know which ones are crystal.
    • Make work work for you - whether want to stay home, work 75%, work full time, not move, etc. - yes, sacrifices will have to be made on both ends - but don't be afraid to ask.
There are a few others that I went to, but these are my biggest take-aways. 


Thursday, January 2, 2014


I think I've learned more in the last year than in 4.25 years of undergrad.  2013 has been an incredible year. Here's my story.

I graduated in December 2012 with the world ahead of me. I was free. I could pursue anything I wanted.  I spent the next month traveling: LA, New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico.  In Alexandria, Virginia, I told my friend Ana, "I haven't exercised at all in the last 4 years, but I love being athletic. You know, I could run a 5K. It's only 3 miles." I traveled to Puerto Rico, laying out of the beach with my NASA friend Denise, and saw my life ahead of me.  I thought, "This is what life is supposed to be like. Peaceful. Exciting, yet peaceful."

The next week I saw myself in an office. A gray, bland, stereotypical office. With computers. And copiers. And everyone shrinking away in their cubical or office.  I saw life at the office as "all work, no play," nervous to do anything that might result in me getting fired.  A higher up came in, and I was shaking all morning that I would get laid off.  Despite reassurances, I thought eyes were on me, and every action was against me.

I also decided to train for the non-existent 5K. I woke up at 5:30, and ran 1.5 miles for 3 days in a row.  On the third day, I fell flat on my face. I limped back home, determined to come up with a different plan.  Instead, I decided to run after work.  Nicki Minaj on Pandora is definitely a savior of mine :-) Thank you, Nicki Minaj. I never thought I would say that, haha. I also discovered TurboKick.  To this day, it kicks my butt. Thank you, Fiesta Dance and Fitness and Denise.

After my fitness routine, I had to keep busy, or else I got super down.  Usually I cooked dinner, watched a show, and went to bed.  If I didn't do that, my thoughts would consist of the following: Where am I going? What am I doing? I don't feel useful at work. I had a 3.8 GPA in college, and now I'm stuck in an office.  I walk down the same, and use the same bathroom I could just leave all this and go to Stanford; but what if I'm not good enough. But then where would I go? To another office? Nobody cares about me. I knew in my heart that I needed to continue going to work, despite my brain screaming to run far away...for no reason. Alex helped me through a lot of these terrible nights. Thank you, Alex.

In March, I moved to a new place. Beautiful running trails; great roommates; I bought a CrockPot (my favorite appliance so far!). Work had me really stressed out that I wasn't learning fast enough. Everyday, I left work everyday unable to concentrate and my "brain hurting" due to sitting at a computer and working on problems all day. But when I went home, I was able to conquer the 2.5 mile route I mapped out for myself.I thought I could do everything BUT get help for my depression. I was getting plenty of sleep, eating right, exercising 3-4 days a week, hanging out with friends, yoga, everything!

One week, everyone had it against me; two guys decided that they demanded answers.  The inexperienced-me was unable to answer, and the depressed-me was unable to tell myself that "It wasn't me" let alone  standing up to my aggressors. The same day, I ran on my famous 2.5 mile trail.  About 1.5 miles in, I start crying.  I felt like someone died. People were looking at me like I was crazy. 2 miles in, I was balling. I walked home to lay on the floor and just cry. I have to get help, this isn't working. 

Getting help was WAY harder than I thought.  I could barely muster the energy to actually call.  People weren't returning my calls. It took 3 weeks to even find someone.

In therapy, I've learned so much about other people and myself.  I learned that other people are separate from me.  Usually, it's their problem.  I've also learned that I'm responsible for keeping myself sane and strong.  I don't necessarily have to be happy; I can be sad but still know that I have self-worth and confidence. Finally, I've learned my life's passion: helping others.  It seemed WAY to obvious for me to notice. The engineering world often puts down those who are social and excited- they dismiss it as a "touchy-feely" and not real. I am totally an extrovert.  And for the last couple of years, I've denied it- I thought I was having too much fun. 

I've changed the way I do things at work.  I'm not afraid to be social and help others.  Because I know that will help my self-esteem and self-worth. And I'm excited to do it.  I do my job so much better, too.  I've also joined Girls Who Code as a Volunteer Instructor- and I absolutely LOVE it!

I've started to do projects just for me.  These include decorating my room, sewing a sofa cover, sewing a wallet, painting, making dinner for myself, coding for me, read, and losing fat (I've lost 15 lbs so far). I'm back to the excited, motivated, smart, awesome Serena. I'm completely myself- and I love it.

2013 has been a hard, much needed, year.  I've developed the tools to go out and conquer the world. I'm excited for what this next year brings.  


P.S. I'm running the Hot Cocoa 5K in SF next week, exactly 1 year from stating I would.  I guess you could call that my New Year's Resolution :-)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Girl's Guide to Business Trips

So I just got back from tagging along on another trip with my Boss and realized I really need to jot all this down. It has taken me 2 years of random business trips and I still forget things but I’d like to think I’ve mostly got it down to an art at this point. Here is my set of tips when packing and going on business trips. I’ll be adding to this as time goes on as well.

Pack Light
The last thing you want to be doing is carrying fourteen bags to and forth and trying to find things in them. For anything up to a week I try to stick to two bags. A backpack for entertainment/schoolbooks/laptop and a carry-on bag for clothing.

First Aid Kit
Invest in a small first aid kit. Business trips often involve a lot of walking/moving and especially for you ladies in flats/heels it can’t hurt to have band aids always at hand. I bought mine for $3 at target and it fits nicely in luggage/purses. For nights out I just take out what I need and put it in a clutch.

I cannot stress the importance of this. If you know me you realize that me and limited clothing options don’t go together. I’m the idiot who packs four bags worth before I realize I have to carry it all and reconsider but I’ve found a way around it. Plan outfits in advance. Also plan to mix up outfits so you can take less clothing. For example for a one week trip I would pack 2 pairs of dress pants (for business), 1 pair jeans (for going out for leisure) and a couple nice skirts or dresses (for going out to dinner, I’ve found that business dinners with the people I work tend to be some seriously high scale places). Then I pack a few blouses. A good plan is to get giant zip locks and pack every outfit in advance complete with jewelry/underwear/etc.
As far as shoes go you really only need one pair. I try to always have a pair of shorter heels that can go casual or dressy. For me this is a pair of booties that I can hide under pants or wear with a dress it really goes both ways and I can actually walk in them. I made the mistake a year ago of bringing actual heels (or to be precise stilettos) to a conference. I couldn’t walk correctly the next day, there is little chance to go back and change or if there is there are other things you could be doing. If you really want also bring a pair of comfy shoes for walking around to change into (i.e. converse or something).

Ladies as far as makeup goes you only need 2 small bags of essentials; you don’t have room for an entire cart. I choose one look for the week that I can play up or down and plan for that. For me this is foundation, powder, mascara, 3 eye shadow palettes in nude colors, and eyeliner, the second bag is for my brushes. Both of these aren’t very large. Pick one or 2 hair products you can’t function without, my hair gets crazy frizzy if I’m anywhere near humidity so I bring a frizz/nutrition spray and that’s about it. If you have curly hair include mouse as well. NOTE: if you’re doing carry on put it in a sealed zip lock bag and check the amount you can take. You can get minis of most products at places like Target or Drug Stores. Deodorant. DON’t FORGET IT. There’s nothing worse than going to shake someone’s hand and realizing they have BO. Toothbrush, you can get one from the hotel but they are cheap and you want your teeth all nice and sparkly for smiling at folk.
I always choose one heat styling tool. Either my hair is straight or curly that week and I can do other things with it too but I usually just pick one and bring it.
And last but not least if you even think you may need them bring Tampons/pads. Especially in engineering where there are few females around, it may be hard to find tampons in the middle of a huge conference where you have no idea where the bathrooms may even be. One doesn’t take up much space and u can keep it in your bag.
If you wear contacts get a travel sized container of solution.

Things You Can Leave Behind
Toothpaste, soap, shampoo, hangers you can get from the hotel. Water etc. you can get always get somewhere; it’s too much of a bother to carry. If you’re doing carry on you won’t be able to take it anyways.
Nail polish, etc. Ladies either don’t do your nails or get them French manicured, there is nothing worse than chipped nails and you don’t want to be constantly fixing them. Plus it looks unprofessional, either go with a neutral you can’t notice even if it chips or go au natural.

Always leave room in your bag
Whether this is for souvenirs, swag bags, etc. I always buy my sister a coffee mug from the places I visit so I have to leave room for that and occasionally I get random swag at events I need to store away.

Plane bag
Pack Snacks, entertainment (for me this is a book or magazine for when I can’t have electronics on). IPod/IPhone/headphones, boarding pass, wallet and ID. This is really all you need, don’t weigh yourself down. Oh and sunglasses/glasses.

Everyday Bag
I take with me 2 purses on trips. One is a cross body bag, big enough to fit what’s needed but that can’t be stolen easily off my person. I put all the important things in the clutch I bring and put it inside with everything else around it. That way, when its dinner time and all I really need is my wallet, I pull the clutch out and am ready to go.
For daytime: First Aid Kit or band aids, mints (for after lunch when you need to speak with folk), mirror (smudgy makeup or bits in your teeth not attractive), powder for touchups, snack (I always get hungry when I’m nervous), phone, wallet (NOTE: on trips always carry a bit of cash for emergencies, I rarely carry cash but I’ve found this is super helpful), building map, notepad (or just use your phone although if you’re in seminars this may be seen as rude since it looks like you’re on your phone, I usually just bring my ipad), pain killers (ladies you know why). Do not forget glasses if you wear them.
Night: painkillers, digestive supplements if you need them, wallet (cash for a cab although most take card now, card, ID), etc.

Let me know if I missed anything or if you have any questions.


N. Riazi

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stanford University

A few weeks back, I got an email from the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University.

"Congratulations! You have been admitted to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford!"

The last few weeks have been so...surreal. My peers have been saying, "I knew you would get in!" "You deserve it!" "Look! You were so worried!"  But life has gone on as before. I'm grounded. I'm here in the moment. For some reason, the admission to my dream school is unreal. 

The department invited me to Visit Day to "get to know me better." So I went. They set me up with a hotel room, reimbursing my gas, and a day full of interviews and lab tours.  

But when did Stanford transform from "surreal" to "real"?  When I started talking to the 60 students around me. 

"Where are you from?" 

"MIT" "Princeton" "UC Berkeley" "Cal Tech" "University of Illinois" "Georgia Tech" "Carnegie Melon" "Cornell"

Me: "UC Davis...."

What-the?! All of these people are from the Top Engineering Schools! Sure, I go to a good school...but not that good! 

The presenters go on to say that basically 10% of applicants are admitted and 5% are invited. Most students that are invited are offered a full-fellowship for their Master's degree.  Now this must be some kind of joke; maybe it was a mistake. 

I cried on the drive home. Why me? I never would have imagined this. 7 years ago, I was talking with a NASA female engineer working on her graduate degree at Stanford. And I'm here. And I wanted to work for NASA. And I was there. And 4 years I was talking to my uncle about his engineering friend who got offered a full ride to MIT for his Masters. And I'm here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Change is not necessarily a bad thing. People change, goals change, life throws a wrench at you and forces change. The thing is, looking back, I never imagined I would be where I am now. I imagined myself on a completely different career path going a completely different direction. A quote shared with me by a friend recently is live so that twenty years down the road, you won't be where you imagined yourself to be. It's easy to depend on a schedule, to plan every second of the next ten years of your life but a little spontaneity may place you where you need to go.

I recently ran into two boys I had known back in high school. While we were talking I realized that your views of one another were based on what we had known of each other years ago. I thought one was going to be an architect and another a lawyer, but now they were on completely different career paths, as am I. I am no longer the meek, nerdy girl reading books during class. I've grown up into someone who's confident with who she is and not afraid to speak up. I'm not the girl I was years ago, and I won't be the girl I am now several years into the future. I think where I'm trying to go with this is, change isn't necessarily a bad thing, sometimes it just means better things are coming.


N. Riazi

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finding Help

Perhaps this is too personal, but my grandfather passed away this week. It reminded me that we all go through tough times, and you aren't alone if something similar happens to you. What do you do when there is a family emergency?
  1. Tell your professors, especially if there are looming deadlines.  Some are nicer than others. Be sure to talk to (or email) them.  See if you can work out an arrangement for turning work in/ exams. Some will allow generous deadlines, others will require you to abide by the syllabus.
  2. If a professor is not budging, go to the college. However, this needs  extreme circumstances, and I've heard requirements of death certificates and such. Hopefully a doctor's note will work.
  3. On- campus counseling is available and FREE! Don't be ashamed. I've had to go to counseling myself.  For non-urgent matters, go to CAPS's website.  To request an emergency appointment, go here. There is also a number to call for after-hours.
This is often something that people don't discuss, and therefore, don't know how to deal with. Use the resources the university has to offer; your school fees cover the cost.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grad School Applications (In Progress)

It's that time of year again, Graduate School Applications! It has been very stressful, and while looking over which programs to apply for, I keep thinking, "What did I really want out of grad school?"

I even asked a couple friends, "Should I even apply to grad school? I don't even know what I want yet!'  Many have replied, "I think you should." And I agree with them. However, the uncertainty makes me uneasy and afraid my application won't be strong enough for my lack of direction. (It goes along the lines of never telling an interviewer that you don't know what you want to do).  I've thought about graduate school for 3 years, and in a year, I'm gunna say the same thing. Heck, I've already taken the GRE.  

But I've narrowed down my list of fields like this:

  • Nanotechnology
  • Materials
  • Energy/ Combustion
  • Controls...maybe...
  • Biotechnology...I've read too many medical ethics books...
  • Aerospace
Okay, I could see myself continuing to learn about combustion/ energy. The field is growing pretty quickly, and maybe I could throw some controls in there. 

As my Lil Sis (Nassim) has attempted to remind me, "You have the right to change your mind!", I try to keep this lingering in my frontal cortex before my hypothalamus takes over with my fear response.

So I've been spending my Saturday afternoons/nights working on applications. You'll be so proud of me! Gathering information, writing up my profile, narrowing down schools, narrowing down who should give me a letter of recommendation (which is such a hard decision!), thinking of backups, and finally contacting those people.  Yesterday, I contacted them, and that's another big hurdle that we're all nervous of (What if they say no! You ask someone else, haha). Mission Part I complete.

I was also nervous about who to ask for feedback on my Personal Statement. My mom is a terrible person for this; she'll read it and say, "Yes, that's nice honey." 

BUT I NEED YOU TO GIVE ME FEEDBACK! other words, my mom is ruled out.  Then, I learned that the Student Academic Success Center is willing to read your Personal Statement and give feedback! Thank goodness! Mission Part II complete.

Graduate school applications is such a long process...good thing I know generally what I'm doing...