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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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Driven to Make a Difference: Women of Accuray Share their Career Journeys

In honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we invited some of the women in Accuray to tell us why they chose to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). You will learn about what inspired them, the challenges they overcame, and advice on how you too can embrace a career in science and technology.

Lauren Auerbach

Motion Control Engineer
I am a Motion Control Engineer which is at the intersection of software, hardware, and electrical systems. In my role I write software that moves the robot of the CyberKnife® System safely throughout its workspace and help design the hardware and electrical interfaces that connect to the rest of the CyberKnife system.

‘Learn as much as you can, ask questions, and stay curious’

What originally inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

I was always drawn to math and science in school, so pursuing a career in STEM was never a question for me. I loved working with my hands and have always learned best with physical lab-style work rather than a lecture. My dad was an engineer, too, and from a young age, I knew I wanted to follow in his path. Tinkering and building were a huge part of our relationship and our mutual love for math and science was another thing for us to bond over.

Did you have any role models who influenced your path?

My dad was my biggest role model. He was a mechanical engineer by trade, and he always encouraged me to be curious and question everything when I was young. He would help with my math homework and bring me to his office to show me his designs and models. He taught me how to use power tools and build things. Together we rewired the electrical system of an old ’68 Mercedes, we built computers together, and we always loved bouncing our ideas off one another.

How can we encourage more girls to explore STEM?

Exposure and encouragement! Starting science and technology-based education from a young age can play a major role in confidence and interest. It was a major influence on my interest in STEM. With more exposure comes more curiosity and exploration, and it’s important to encourage that process.

What advice would you give to  women and girls interested in STEM careers?

Go for it! If you’re interested in something, keep seeking it out. Learn as much as you can, ask questions, and stay curious. There are so many resources out there now. Exploring the various fields of math, science, and technology can be an endless journey. Find what piques your interest and keep probing. 

Cristina Negrut

User Experience Design and Usability Engineer
As a User Experience (UX) Designer and Usability Engineer, I focus on designing safe and easy-to-use applications for our Treatment Delivery and Planning Systems.

‘Don’t be afraid to change paths – listen to passions call’

Embrace New Beginnings

For four years in graduate school in Economics, I pored over optimization problems and filled up notebooks with math equations. While I enjoyed solving complex problems, I increasingly listened to the soft but persistent voice telling me that this was not what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. But how could I change my path after all the time and effort I had invested? 

Somehow, I mustered the courage to let it all go. Computers and mobile technologies were just taking off, and even though I did not know what my new job could be, I enrolled in yet another graduate school in Information Science at the University of Michigan. I let myself pick the class that motivated me the most and ended up taking my first course in Human-Computer Interaction, a class that would lay the foundation of my career as a User Experience Design Engineer. I have finally found what I love doing. It makes a huge difference being in a field that you are passionate about – don’t be afraid to change paths.

Consider the Industry

Let’s say you already know what profession or job role best suits you. I found that a very important aspect is the industry you choose. You could do the same role working for an uninspiring industry, or like in my case, work in the healthcare industry. During the toughest days at work that are inevitable over one’s career, reminding myself that ultimately, the work I do will help clinicians and patients worldwide is so meaningful and rewarding makes everything worth it.

Cultivate a Passion Project

My youngest son was only a year old when I started a website collecting graduation speeches. I was passionate about learning and sharing the nuggets of wisdom that accomplished commencement speakers were sharing with young graduates. In addition, this project would allow me to keep my skills up to date in web design and web usability which were not part of my day job.  Keeping abreast with all design platforms through a project that I was deeply passionate about gave me a lot of satisfaction, and I felt it also gave me a safety net. Little did I know that this work of love would allow me to land media interviews in print, radio, and live TV. I worked on this project for over 15 years, and even now after it ended, I still get to share what I learned, more recently on the Apple News in Conversation podcast.

Angela Arts

Senior Director of Global Clinical and Service Training
I lead global programming to support the education of Accuray’s field service personnel and clinicians utilizing Accuray technology

‘Recognise and be open to new opportunities when they arise’

What originally inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

I didn’t set out with a specific career goal to work in science and technology. My passions and focus were in areas of organizational communication, and leadership. Like many young professionals I knew I wanted to do work that made a difference. I found my way to the training space early in my career and have worked in those functions ever since. Getting to work in the med tech industry allows me to leverage my strengths, work alongside brilliant people, and make an impact on the lives of cancer patients.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field? How did you overcome those obstacles?

At times throughout my career, it wasn’t uncommon to be the only female voice in the room. Those situations can be intimidating, as if your responses are under a different level of scrutiny simply because you’re female. Over time I’ve realized that in those situations, your perspective as the minority is even more important to the success of the conversation, and that sharing your views is a way that you can bring value to your organization. To build this confidence, become an expert in your area, and learn how your function fits into the rest of the organization. Be intentional about sharing your thoughts in meetings. It gets easier, and people will come to expect it from you going forward.

What excites you most about the innovations happening now in radiation therapy?

The field of Radiation Therapy technology is quickly evolving, and the increasing focus on patient outcomes and patient experience is an area that I find exciting. This change in focus requires us to think beyond the technical specifications of the product, and instead think more holistically about how we can be the best possible partners for clinicians.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over your career?

A specific recent accomplishment was my oversight of the design and construction of our new global training facility. This initiative allowed me to lead strategically, learn some new skills and think creatively about the future of our training organization.

Occasionally I’m privileged to hear from patients whose lives were improved with our technology. Each time, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be a part of this industry. To see our collective efforts, have such a profound impact on their lives is incredibly fulfilling.

What advice would you give to women and girls interested in STEM careers?

My career is an example of how someone with strengths outside of traditional areas of STEM can be successful in a technical industry. Fortunately, more doors are open for women to make an impact in this space than ever before. Different perspectives allow conversations to be more robust, and solutions sounder. Women are not just deserving of a seat at the table, they are essential to the success of what’s being discussed around it. It’s the responsibility of everyone, not just other women, to encourage more girls to be interested in technical careers.

 

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would you say?

Recognize and be open to new opportunities when they arise. I think it’s easy for young professionals to be caught up in wanting to follow the right career path, and that career growth only comes in the form of a promotion. In my experience, there is no “right path,” and growing within your current role can also be a powerful learning experience. New projects, assignments, or working with different teams can hone new skills and potentially identify strengths you didn’t know you had.

Karen Crowther

Global Radiotherapy Manager
I am a Therapeutic Radiographer and the manager of the Accuray User Community (Accuray Exchange) and the Accuray Exchange Webinar Series for the radiotherapy and radiosurgery communities. It is my honor to help facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise among our community members.

'Believe in yourself and just go for it’

What originally inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

I enjoyed studying science during my school days with a natural inquisitiveness and curiosity. Personally, I have experienced the profound impact that cancer can have on a family. Losing my father has been a significant motivating factor for me to dedicate my career to working in oncology and radiotherapy. It was and is important to me to ensure every patient can access the best treatments available.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field? How did you overcome those obstacles?

Balancing work and personal life is one of the most significant challenges. In my opinion, Accuray is a company that promotes a culture of diversity, inclusivity and work-life balance, making this balancing act a little easier.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over your career?

During my career, I have been fortunate enough to have experienced several proud moments. One that stands out is when I achieved a distinction in my MSc while working full-time and raising two young children. Another proud moment was presenting my research at ESTRO in 2019. I am thrilled to be able to repeat this achievement at ESTRO 2024 in Glasgow, where I will share the initial results of my PhD research. Joining Accuray was also a major accomplishment for me, as it was always a dream of mine to work in this industry.

How can we encourage more girls to explore STEM careers?

There are many ways to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers, including efforts by parents, teachers, and industry.

  • Exposure to Role Models: Introduce young girls to successful women in STEM fields through mentorship programs, talks, or workshops. Highlight the achievements and contributions of women scientists, engineers, and technologists in various fields.
  • Educational Initiatives: Support STEM education programs that provide hands-on experiences, experiments, and projects, making learning engaging and fun. Encourage participation in science fairs, robotics competitions, coding clubs, or STEM-related extracurricular activities.
  • Break Gender Stereotypes: Challenge stereotypes by showcasing diverse role models and emphasizing that STEM is for everyone, regardless of gender. Promote a growth mindset, encouraging girls to see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Hands-On Experiences: Provide opportunities for girls to participate in hands-on activities and experiments, fostering a love for discovery and problem-solving. Organize field trips to science centers, tech companies, or research institutions to expose girls to real-world applications of STEM.
  • Supportive Communities: Establish supportive communities or clubs where girls can share their interests, collaborate on projects, and receive encouragement from peers and mentors.
  • Parental and Teacher Support: Encourage parents and teachers to actively support girls’ interest in STEM by providing resources, encouragement, and positive reinforcement.
Jiuhong Chen

Jiuhong Chen

Director of Medical Affairs, APAC
I execute medical strategy within the APAC region to develop and expand clinical utilization and clinical research in the radiation therapy field. Creation and execution of a strategy to build and strengthen relationships with KOLs in the oncology community in the APAC region and support customers to design research projects and publications is key.

‘Learning is key… stay interested, passionate and ambitious’

What originally inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

Originally, I went to Medical School by my parents’ wishes, where it sparked my interest in medical sciences.

Did you have any role models who influenced your path?

Yes, I do have many women role models in my path and the recent one is the former COO of Meta Sheryl Sandburg and her book of “Lean In” inspired me in my career.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field and how did you overcome those obstacles?

Advancing your technical skills is always of the utmost importance and a challenge in the field. I am still working on it and learning from our customers and colleagues who are experts in the field.

What excites you most about the innovations happening now in radiation therapy?

Accuray’s motion management solution of “Synchrony” is the innovation to me that is the most exciting in the radiotherapy field.

How does your work applying complex technology help improve patients’ lives?

It helps to facilitate the clinical utilization of Accuray technologies and clinical proof for innovative treatments to better improve patients’ lives.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over your career?

I am proud to be adaptive and always scouting out ways to improve by learning.

What advice would you give to young women and girls interested in STEM careers?

We don’t have to be a genius to be a scientist, but we do need to be persistent and passionate. Stay the course with your interest, passion and ambition.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would you say?

Believe in yourself and “Lean in”, to achieve your full potential.

Madhavi Kapa

Madhavi Kapa

Senior Director, Product Strategy and Marketing

I leverage my extensive experience in global product management and commercialization to drive the success of the helical treatment delivery systems portfolio used for treating cancer with radiation therapy. This involves working with clinical customer touchpoints to understand their needs, forecast future market trends and demands, develop strategic plans and partnerships, create roadmaps for product development including lifecycle management and new product solutions to ensure the success of the product portfolio.

'Take risks. Embrace uncertainty and view failure as a learning opportunity for future success'

What originally inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

Growing up, I was drawn to understanding how things work and solving complex problems. This blend of curiosity and passion for problem-solving led me to pursue a career in science and technology. My education started with electronics, control systems engineering, and computer science. I owe this in large measure to my parents who created an environment that encouraged my inquisitive nature and supported my interests in STEM fields. More importantly, they instilled in me a strong work ethic by example.

I started my career as an Avionics engineer in the aerospace sector, crafting embedded software for transmission controls in the auto industry, and creating solutions in the healthcare space with products that help patients get diagnosed and treated accurately and in a timely manner.

Did you have any role models who influenced your path?

In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have several role models who have influenced my path. Whether it was teachers who encouraged me to pursue my ambitions or mentors who provided guidance and support, they inspired me to push boundaries and strive for excellence.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field and how did you overcome those obstacles?

Some of the challenges I’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field has been breaking through gender stereotypes and biases. At times I have had to work twice as hard to prove my capabilities. What helped me overcome these obstacles was staying focused on my goals, building a strong support network, and continuously challenging myself to excel.

How does your work applying complex technology help improve patients’ lives?

In my role at Accuray, I have the privilege of positively impacting patients’ lives by improving the efficacy and safety of radiation therapy. By leveraging cutting-edge technology, we can deliver more precise treatments, minimize side effects, and ultimately enhance the quality of life for patients undergoing cancer treatment. What excites me most about the innovations happening now in radiation therapy is the potential to enhance cancer treatment and improve patient outcomes. From advanced imaging techniques to precision radiation delivery systems and potential combination with immunotherapy, the strides being made in oncology hold the promise of more effective and targeted therapies for cancer patients.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over your career?

Over the course of my career, I’m most proud of the collaborative projects I’ve led working with talented teams that have resulted in meaningful advancements in healthcare technology. Whether it is developing innovative medical devices or spearheading initiatives to expand access to healthcare services. Knowing that my work has made a positive difference in people’s lives is incredibly rewarding and motivating.

What advice would you give to women and girls interested in STEM careers?

To girls and women interested in STEM careers, my advice is to believe in yourself and don’t underestimate your abilities. Make yourself a priority and surround yourself with supportive mentors and peers who will uplift and empower you along your journey. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Embrace uncertainty and failure as a learning opportunity, and strive for continuous growth and improvement. These are stepping stones to positive impact and success.

Namita Thakur

Namita Thakur

Physics Customer Support Manager

I am a board-certified Medical Physicist with over 13 years of experience with the TomoTherapy® System and I currently work as Physics Customer Support Manager at Accuray. And I lead the team for both the Radixact® System and the CyberKnife® System product lines.  In this role, I work closely with R&D, Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Applications, Field Service and directly support customers and product development.

’Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it’

What inspired you to pursue a career in science and technology?

I come from a family of engineers, and it was almost a given that I would study science. What helped was that I enjoyed science, especially solving math problems. Growing up in India, it was always a competitive environment and if you wanted a good life you had to study science. Of course, as a grown-up, I understand that the measures of a good life and success are different. And have little to do with studying science.

Did you have any role models who influenced your path?

When I was in college, I remember reading a news article about Indra Nooyi. She was the CEO of PepsiCo, and I felt intrigued that an Indian woman could be in such a position. I started reading more about her and learned about her journey. That was partially the reason for my choosing to pursue further studies in the United States.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman working in a technical field?

You will probably not find a single woman who has not faced gender discrimination and bias. There were times when discouraging instances affected my self-confidence. The only way to overcome that was to not let self-doubt get in the way and to speak up for myself. I was fortunate to find a great mentor and leader whose kindness helped me gain confidence. Looking back at some of those unfair experiences I can say that they were valuable life lessons. They shaped the person and leader I am today and taught me what a leader should not be doing.

How does your work applying complex technology help improve patients’ lives?

A lot goes into developing treatment systems that can deliver radiation precisely. For someone diagnosed with cancer, their entire world has changed. The last thing they should worry about is the accuracy of their treatment. The clinical team in a hospital has the responsibility to prescribe and deliver treatments to their patient’s. And our responsibility as the manufacturers of medical devices is to ensure we support the clinical team in that. This allows the clinical team to focus on the most important thing which is patient care. As a Medical Physicist in the support team, my primary concern is to ensure patient safety. And we do that by developing comprehensive Quality Assurance programs.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over your career?

After working in the clinical environment for several years, you get to see the direct impact on patients after they complete their radiation therapy treatment. It is now particularly gratifying to see that I make that difference on a much broader and global scale.

What advice would you give to young women and girls interested in STEM careers?

My one word of advice is to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.  The Lack of Female Role Models is one of the greatest challenge we face. It is hard to imagine yourself somewhere when you can’t see it. My hope is that one day, we will live in a world where girls are encouraged to study science, that their curiosity is not dismissed. And where women have adequate support to balance the responsibilities of research and motherhood.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would you say?

“At the end of the day, don’t forget that you’re a person, don’t forget you’re a mother, don’t forget you’re a wife, don’t forget you’re a daughter.” – Indra Nooyi

“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.”

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