Spring Brunch 2015: A Life of Discovery: Inspiration, Exploration, and Giving Back

“Life is a journey with a perpetual learning curve.”

It’s not every day that you meet an internationally renowned physicist with an IMDb profile, but Dr. JoAnne Hewett is just that and more. On Saturday, April 25, she graciously joined us at the Stanford Faculty Club for the Cap and Gown Spring Brunch to share her story and insights from her accomplished career.

JoAnne is the Director of the Elementary Particle Physics Division at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She spends her time probing the fundamental nature of the universe, thinking about what’s possible, coming up with theories, and testing them. Though inevitably most of the hypotheses are wrong, she is looking forward to getting more data to test her latest theories in a few weeks when the CERN accelerator is turned on again.

JoAnne was the first woman on the faculty at SLAC and described almost always being the only woman in the room. Back in high school she remembers there being some women in her math and science classes, but as she continued her studies there were fewer and fewer women. When she found herself to be the only woman in her graduate program, she recalled pointing to the women who had published papers to quiet any naysayers who questioned whether women could do physics.

As she started her career at SLAC and later moved into leadership positions, she continues to find herself in many situations as the only person with two X chromosomes, but is pleased to see a wave of women behind her and makes a concerted effort to welcome and support them. Her advice for women in all industries: speak up and have confidence.

Not forgetting to have fun was another piece of advice. In college, JoAnne was in the marching band, though she admits it was not as rambunctious as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.

JoAnne also described how important role models have been for her. Like many of us, one of her role models was her mother, who pursued her own academic interests and even ventured to take calculus when none of the other girls did. Her instructor was skeptical of a girl taking calculus, but she aced the class and the teacher told her to let the boys have a chance. It was an important lesson for JoAnne that women can accomplish anything if they focus on doing so.

For JoAnne, that’s physics. She didn’t take her first physics class until college, but immediately fell in love with how practical it was and was excited that she could “use math to do something.” Physics continues to be her passion, as seen by how her eyes sparkle when she describes “up quarks” and “down quarks,”  “top quarks” and “bottom quarks,” and don’t forget “strange quarks.” and “charmed quarks“. Find your passion and follow it,” she advised. “Then hard work won’t feel like work. You will have fun and thrive.” When you’re interested in what you’re doing, then you will excel. “Be yourself. All things will fall in place if you are passionate about what you do.”

Following the presentation, Michelle Galloway facilitated a traditional Tapping Ceremony along with Alumnae Board President Samantha Quist and the Actives Board to welcome Dr. Hewett into Cap and Gown as an honorary member. We are pleased to celebrate the contributions of JoAnne to the field of particle physics and science education, and acknowledge her example of blazing trails as a role model for women across a wide range of fields.

Final words of advice: Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t. Go for it and do it.