• Shelly Elliott and Liz Fritsch

1-on-1 with Liz Fritsch, chemical engineer, new mom, and flag football phenom

Liz was one of the first people I met when moving into Pasquerilla East hall at Notre Dame. She was a senior my freshman year, and I really looked up to her because she seemed to have it all together. She was a chemical engineer, active in the dorm, an absolute beast as a linebacker on our flag football team, and an all-around good person. Liz has great professional experience, completing a rotational program with GE, and now working for Siemens. Earlier this year, Liz and her husband Ben welcomed a baby girl, Hazel, earlier this year, and she has a lot of great advice for women who have a family, social life, and career. Enjoy!

Liz, her husband Ben, and their sweet daughter Hazel.

Liz studied Chemical Engineering and obtained a certificate in Material Science and Engineering.

Steel Toes- My experience working as an engineer

Who is your current employer and what is your current job title?

I currently work for Siemens Healthineers in their molecular imaging modality. I am a strategic business planner.

Tell us about a day in your shoes.

I feel like most engineers will give you a similar answer: there is no typical day in my shoes. My overarching responsibility is to create a ten year forecast for our business. This includes many little side projects that I get to deep dive into, creating models and gathering all sorts of data to support my overall conclusions. I also get to help out on bigger strategic initiatives, such as mergers and acquisitions, playing a similar supporting role: deep diving, gathering, organizing and presenting data on a myriad of topics (from prostate cancer to rural Chinese population figures).

What attracted you to engineering?

My brother went into civil engineering and when I asked him what an engineer does, he answered “they solve problems”.I was that nerdy 6th grader who enjoyed doing those grid-type logic puzzles and who did extra problems in math class (because I thought it was fun??Again, see NERDY).So when I heard that engineers solved problems, it was an obvious path for me to strive towards.

What other jobs and roles have you had and what did those jobs entail?

Straight out of school I worked for GE Aviation in their operations management leadership program. It was a great experience because it was a rotational program, so I got to see 4 different sites, work 4 different roles and live all over the country. In a short amount of time I got to see a variety of leadership styles and plant operations and got to see different ways to solve common problems.

It was heavily manufacturing based and I loved it. Working in machine shops is a unique experience and definitely help me grow a thick skin that I think is important in any career, but especially engineering. Working in a more typical office type environment now, I miss my days of hanging out on a manufacturing floor watching the actual process of things being made. I will always be enthralled at watching things get made.

What was your biggest engineering struggle from either college or your professional life and how did you overcome it?

One of my rotations was a supervisor role in a machine shop.I was supervising 12 men, 11 of whom were older than me, several of whom had been working that same job for longer than I had been alive.I was a young woman, one whole year out of college and I was their boss.I very quickly learned that you are never owed respect (or even if you are, that is sure as hell no guarantee that you will get it).You have to work to earn respect and you have to work hard.For me, that meant long days, humbleness and a laser focus on learning their processes.Also, acknowledging that they are the experts at their jobs and that I was there to learn from them and to listen to them.This, plus a genuine interest in their lives and a willingness to occasionally buy donuts for the group, goes a very long way.

Stilettos- My advice for putting your best foot forward

How did you prepare yourself for job interviews?

Before every interview I’ve done, I sit down and write out what I call my “stories." Most job interviews nowadays are behavioral based (think “tell me about a time when…”).Before interviewing, I sit down and write out ten or so “stories” that showcased a variety of situations that highlight positive attributes about myself: a story about my leadership skills, a story about working with a difficult colleague, one about finding a solution to a difficult problem, etc.Then I practice telling that story, making sure I emphasize my role and my accomplishment (Never be humble in an interview, never).

That great thing about having an arsenal of stories is that you can usually adapt them to fit whatever behavioral question is asked (i.e – a story about leading a team could also be used to demonstrate how I dealt with communication issues on a cross-functional project).And that way, when you are asked a behavioral question, you aren’t trying to pull a memory out of thin air, you just think about your stories and tell the one that best answers the question.

What qualities make someone a good candidate for hire?

I’ve actual helped hire for a few positions and the main thing I always looked for was a willingness to learn. One thing that always immediately disqualified someone for me was when it was obvious that they were not listening, simply waiting for me to be done so they could talk. If you can’t actively listen during an interview, why would you on the job?

What resources, tools, and strategies do you use for professional development?

The best strategy I have for professional development is to maintain your network. This does not include keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date (although I sure that doesn’t hurt). Create a good network and keep in touch, even if it’s just an occasional email. That boss from the summer internship that you totally dominated, the HR guy you would have drinks with after work, the cubemate you bonded with during late nights, make sure you are always fresh in their thoughts, so if opportunities come up they think of you. Also, as tempting as it may occasionally be, never burn bridges.

What is the best piece of advice you have received or what piece of advice would you give to other women in the engineering field?

This may seem like an odd answer, but I once worked for a woman plant manager who loved to say “There is a special circle in hell for women who don’t help other women”. There are few women in the engineering field and those who are still come up against straight up sexism way more often than they should. Do not perpetuate this cycle – do not bad mouth or gossip about another woman, do not put her down or belittle her. Please, please, never even get close to insinuating that another woman got ahead by doing something, ahem, uncouth (I hate that I still have to call friends out on this one). And don’t stop at simply not doing these things, but put a stop to those who do. If we do not respect one another, how can we expect crotchety old men who have been in the business for 30 years to do so? If we do not stand up for one another, who will? Fight for one another, promote one another, mentor, advise, encourage and raise each other up.

Who is the woman you most admire and why?

I don’t know what woman I most admire, but I have a long list of those that I do. Obviously my mom and sister top that list, because they have gone through it all before me and fought fights I can’t even imagine having to fight (My mom was denied maternity leave twice. The fact that happened less than 30 years ago blows my ever-loving mind). Women that I am not related to that I admire? Cathy Pieronek. Cathy was a force to be reckoned with in ND’s College of Engineering. She was a dean who primarily dealt with aerospace engineers, but every engineering student knew who she was, and simultaneous feared and revered her. There are many reasons why I admire Cathy, but I will try to stick to my top few. One, she was always straight forward and expected you to be the same. I have never met anyone with a more accurate bullshit-meter. And she would call you on it in a heartbeat. She was unfailing straight and honest with you. Two, she worked tirelessly for causes she believed in (and a top cause of hers was supporting women in engineering). And three, she knew her worth and never let anyone question it. When I am unsure or doubting myself, I picture Cathy (all commanding 6 feet of her) and think of what she would tell me. She has yet to steer me wrong.

Running shoes- balancing work and life

What does work/life balance mean to you?

I recently became a mother, and as a result I have a whole new perspective on work/life balance. I feel like I could write a novel about everything I thought I had mastered about work/life balance (keyword: thought) and every new revelation I have had in the last 5 months. Ask me again in another 5 and I am sure I will have a completely different answer.

Now that everything I was so sure that I knew has been decisively thrown out the window, here is what I do know:

Don’t stress work/life balance early in your career. This is the time to put work first occasionally (again, keyword here is occasionally). Don’t miss weddings or family events or important dates with your special person, but if you have to stay late every now and again to make a deadline, impress your boss’s boss or put the finishing special, extra brownie point touches on a project at the expense of a night out – do it. Bank those brownie points while you have the time. Start your career out strong and be the go to person. Your reputation as such will follow you. The more you show that you go the extra-mile, are reliable and an expert at what you do, the more trust you will have when your life requires more flexibility.

When work/life balance becomes more necessary down the road, know your priorities and communicate them. I now very rarely am still at work come 5 o’clock. My daughter goes to bed at 6:30 and I want to squeeze in as much play time and cuddle time and book reading time in as possible before then. This is, without question, my number one priority, deadlines and projects be damned. However, if I do not communicate this with my colleagues and my manager, it will not work out in the long run.

Know what is flexible and be flexible yourself. And communicate your flexibility. Baby’s bedtime? Not flexible. Lunch hours and evenings after 7 PM? Flexible. Communicate your priorities and what you are doing to stay on top of work (“I need to leave at 4:45, 5 PM at the latest, but I will be online tonight at 8 PM if you have questions and I will get you that report by 9 AM tomorrow morning”)

This is what has worked for me. I am lucky in that I work for a company that is very generous and flexible when it comes to things like working from home and what hours I need to be in the office. But it only works because I communicate (loudly and often) my needs, my priorities and my flexibilities.

What are some tips you have or strategies you use to achieve work/life balance?

Communication! Do I sound like a broken record yet? Talk to your boss, talk to your colleagues, if you have a significant other, talk to them too. Do your homework before going into these talks too. Know what your non-negotiables are, know where you can give some ground and have several options and plan B’s and C’s ready to suggest. Be open and work with everyone to figure out how to get your work done while also being present in your life. Have those conversations, don’t be a silent martyr. Also, talk to the women around you about what creative solutions that have come up with in their own never-ending quest for work/life balance. Talk to the women at work, your mom, your aunt, your neighbor, hell, email me if you have no one else you think you can talk to. But find yourself a cheerleader and talk – talk until you have an idea, formulate a plan and then implement it, advocate for it (or fight for it if need be) and make it work.

#chemical #newengineeringmom #worklifebalance

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