USC’s Women in Engineering (WIE) offers professional, academic and social services to the women of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The goal of WIE is provide resources and overall support that will address the unique challenges female engineers face. WIE’s mission is to allow our female students to find personal and professional success, both during their time at USC Viterbi and beyond.

Professor Spotlight

Dr. Stacey Finley, Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering

How did you get to your position at USC?

I did my undergraduate work at Florida A&M, which is a historically black university in Florida. I applied to various institutions but a representative from FAMU talked to my counselor and told her I should apply; I then visited the campus and fell in love. I liked it because it was culturally stimulating. There is faculty from my background, which is really important to me. The scholarship I had required internships, so I completed 3 internships in manufacturing. I was not excited about it because I did not find it scientifically stimulating. So I could have pursued a career in manufacturing, but decided to choose research instead.

I went to some graduate school fairs and decided I would go to graduate school for the research. I went to Northwestern outside of Chicago and pursued Chemical engineering. My research there involved computational modeling, which uses mathematical analysis and mathematical tools to study important scientific questions, for example identifying and predicting new biochemical reactions to break down toxic compounds. Which relates more with environmental engineering, but still required mathematical modeling. After my graduate work, I wanted to pursue more biomedical research, and so I got a post doc position at Hopkins in the biomedical department there.

That is where I started the research I do now which studies angiogenesis. It involves applying computational tools to better understand cancer growth and identifying drug targets to treat cancer.

What classes do you teach?

I teach systems biology—one course for undergraduate students in the fall and one for graduate students in the spring. It is very related to my research, using mathematical models to describe biological systems.

What is your favorite part of research?

My favorite part of research is identifying a new question and then coming up with the tools or approach to answer that question. Research is complex and requires multiple people to come together to investigate a subject. And we do not know what the outcome of our research will be – for example, whether or not we will get the results we expect. But what we do know are the steps that it takes to get there, and this is my favorite part. I have always been more excited about the process, rather than being at that final product.

What are some challenges you face as a female engineer?

Underrepresentation. Not seeing very many role models who look like me, both in terms of gender balance and racial balance. But while it is a challenge, I also see that as an opportunity – there are many girls like me coming through the pipeline now and it is humbling that I can be that role model to those women.

Another challenge I face is funding. The current funding climate is difficult. Though there have been more funds to NIH within the past 6 months, which has been helpful, it is still hard to turn the wheels in funding. But people will always complain about funding (laughter).

What is one piece of advice you would give to other women in engineering?

You might have heard of Imposter syndrome. This is where you do not feel you deserve to be where you are. Women often times feel like they do not deserve to be here or that their qualifications are not good enough. My advice is to pretend that you are until you truly believe that you are.  Because you are. Basically, fake it until you feel more empowered. That is a strategy I used to gain confidence.

Another piece of advice I have for women in engineering is to connect with people around you. Establish a strong community, whether it be scientific or personal. This includes going to WIE events or other undergraduate or graduate programs. Have a strong community to fall back on.