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STEM Spotlight: Kristin Lauter Talks About Moving Up

Kristin Lauter, principal researcher and head of the Cryptography Group at Microsoft Research and member of the Association of Women in Mathematics, recalls being a member of a research group that was in need of new leadership. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for an opportunity to lead this group,” she says, “although I had been wondering whether I was being considered for the job. I was fortunate enough to start working for a new manager who really pushed for me to get the position. It was due to her support that I was asked to lead it. And I really did have a clear vision as to what the group could and should be.”

However, Lauter still wasn’t eager to take the job “because I felt it was a sacrifice of my own research time to do a lot of management and problem solving—and honestly, I could not see the benefits,” she says. “So I’m not sure it was courage that was lacking on my part; it was more like motivation that was lacking. But my new manager wouldn’t let it die. She insisted on calling me out of some big meetings to try to talk me into it. She said: ‘You have to do this; it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often, and it’s very good for your career.’

“So I took it,” Lauter says, “and the interesting thing I found is that the advantages of taking a new position aren’t always obvious. But as you achieve more power within the system, you begin to have a better understanding of how the system works. And you start to see why having that power and those resources is really key to your success and to your ability to support other women in science. You don’t rise through the ranks without the support of someone above you who’s cultivating those connections.”

What do you think is the best strategy for moving up in your career? Have you ever found yourself reluctant to go after a promotion? Share your experiences in the comments section below.


Karen Purcell

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