Podcast featuring Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics and
Dr. Jamese Sims, Senior Science Advisor for Artificial Intelligence, Meteorologist
After she graduated with a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences and meteorology, Dr. Jamese Sims found that she was often the only woman, the only Black person, and also the youngest person in the room. In this episode, she talks to APU professor Dr. Kandis Wyatt about how she taught herself to speak up and be assertive so she could effectively communicate her ideas and her expertise. Also learn about her strategy for creating a personal vision and setting attainable life goals by better understanding her personality, strengths, weaknesses, and passions as well as attending training, finding mentors, and developing a strong support system.
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Read the Transcript:
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Welcome to the Exploring STEM podcast. I’m your host, Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to explore the evolving world of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM is important because our world depends on it: the economy, our general wellbeing, and our future. It’s all defined by a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math. As STEM continues to evolve, this podcast will connect new innovations, insights, and provide inspiration by those men and women in our community who are champions of these important issues.
So today, my guest is Dr. Jamese Sims. She’s a global speaker, a renowned scientist specializing in the infusion of artificial intelligence into atmospheric science. She’s a champion of diversity, equity, inclusion, as well as STEM. So Dr. Sims, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me.
Dr. Jamese Sims: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: So there are so many critical conversations happening right now that address issues of vision and seeking clarity about forging a path forward. So can you start by telling our audience a little bit about yourself and why this topic is so dear to your heart?
Dr. Jamese Sims: Sure. So I actually grew up in Mississippi and I moved to Maryland following graduation from my undergrad, which was Jackson State University. And once I moved here, I began working for a government agency. And as you mentioned, my background is in atmospheric sciences and meteorology. And this is a field that does not have a lot of African Americans or people of color, and also not a lot of women.
And so it’s been extremely important to me to actually have a vision for what it is that I want to do so that I can continue to push forward and hopefully assist and open doors for others who are coming behind me.
Start a degree in the School of STEM at American Public University.
We want to make sure that our field does become, and it is improving slightly, but we want to make sure that our field does become much more diverse, because we have such a large pool of talent that we want to incorporate into the STEM fields.
And so for me, as I continue to move throughout my career, it’s important to be a voice, particularly for when decisions are being made regarding science and different areas of meteorology that impact all of our communities.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I really liked what you said about being a voice, especially since you’re a pioneer and you’re the first in so many areas. So can you start by talking about some of the challenges that you’ve encountered in the workplace and how this has impacted your life both personally and professionally?
Dr. Jamese Sims: Sure. When I was in my early stages of my career, I think one of the biggest mistakes that I made was having unrealistic expectations. When I graduated with my doctorate in atmospheric sciences, I thought that there were going to be just so many things that were going to automatically open up for me. Not realizing that, yes, you get the PhD, you become an expert, but there is still so much more work that you have to do in order to get to where you want to be.
And it’s all about making sure that you are being respected as a scientist, and also having that vision in front of you so that when you do face the different challenges, you don’t get distracted and say, “I’m going to give up.” Some of those challenges may be, for me, I was the youngest person in the room a lot of times. I was also, again, the only female, the only African-American.
And so when you’re in these positions and you look around and you don’t see people that look like you, for me, in particular, I found myself in the early years being very intimidated and questioning myself and not really believing in what it was that I could do.
For me, I was actually a bit more quiet than a lot of people, and it’s taken me a lot of practice in speaking up and being assertive in order to get my point across.
Because once you realize that you do have a lot to offer and once it gets deep in you that you know why you’re here, you want to make sure that you are contributing, because without your voice and without your expertise, and without your knowledge and perspective, then things can’t move forward.
If you’re being invited to a meeting—this was something that a mentor told me—if I’m invited to a meeting, first of all, sit at the table. If my name is on the invite, I have a seat at the table.
The other thing is I’m there to contribute. Don’t just wait until after the meeting to speak up. Speak up there at that moment, because whatever the idea and the perspective is that I have and that others have, that’s why we’re here. If we don’t allow ourselves to speak up, then we’re not going to live out our purpose. And that’s the most important thing.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I like what you said about living out your purpose. I think for a lot of our listeners, that is challenging in and of itself, because we go to school, we take classes, but trying to develop a purpose is sometimes challenging. So can you talk a little bit more about that? And especially when it comes to a vision, how do you individualize your vision?
Dr. Jamese Sims: It takes a lot of self-awareness and acceptance. I know for me, there were a lot of things that I didn’t think were normal or I didn’t value about myself. And so in understanding—and I’ve taken even training courses, things like project management courses, different leadership courses, where you have to learn more about your personality type and the benefits of it and how it can be a great asset to the workplace. And you also learn about your weaknesses.
And so I think that once you become very self-aware and know what your strengths and weaknesses are? What makes you unique? What do you have to offer? And also what you’re passionate about? When you find out those things, then you can create your vision.
And it really takes digging deep down and saying, “What is it that makes me tick? What is it that drives me? Or what is it that makes me angry? What are some things that I want to change?” And in understanding all of those pieces, you can then put together what your long-term and your short-term goals are. And once you have this package, then you will actually see what your vision is.
For me, when I was preparing to apply to graduate school, I had to write a career interest statement. And in that statement, I talked about how I wanted to become an expert in the technology that we use here in America, so that I could teach other countries about it in order to assist them in preparing for major storms so that they could have the resources or request the resources that would be needed to save lives and property not just here in the US, but also in other places.
And so in having that written down, having that vision written down then, I actually did not know how it was going to manifest. However, over the last several years, I’ve been able to speak about the technology that we have here, that we actually use in order to prepare citizens for storms and to save lives and property and things of that nature.
And so I said all of that to say a lot of times we may know what it is that we want to do, and we may hear ourselves say it even, and we write it down, but do we actually believe that it’s going to happen? And so we must write things down so that, when we do get discouraged, or if things happen, life happens and it can throw us off course, we can always go back to that.
So I think the way that we individualize it is really and truly becoming more self-aware and understanding who we are and our strengths, weaknesses, and what makes us unique.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: That is powerful. That many times, when it comes to a vision, it’s more than just having the vision, but it’s writing it down. It’s taking action. And I like what you said about believing. You need to believe in yourself. If not you, then who? So that’s really powerful.
The main audience for this podcast are the students of American Public University. We have a broad student base of over 82,000 students. So what would you say to the students in terms of how do you use some of the basic academic practices and theories to define your vision?
Dr. Jamese Sims: I think that when it comes to some of those basic academic practices and theories of really understanding how to define goals. Or even for a business in particular, when you’re looking at how to manage projects, one of the things that I learned in some of the training that I’ve had since I’ve been a government employee is that I really wish that I had project management training early on.
Because as I was going through the courses, I was saying to myself, “Man, I can apply this in my home. I could have applied this even more when I was pursuing my doctorate,” because it really outlines the different steps that you need in order to be successful and you can apply them in any way in life.
And so I think that you must begin with understanding what the problem is. And then you can brainstorm and come up with different solutions, and then really understanding how you’re going to meet the end goal. And the biggest picture, though, of course, is having a vision to overcome whatever it is that you need to overcome.
And so I think that really and truly taking a hard look at where you are and determining where it is that you want to go, we apply that again through academia, when we’re given certain projects or even a paper or something like that to write. We always define what the problem is first and then continue on from there. And I think that that’s what we have to do in life as well.
And it may not necessarily be a problem, but it could be something that you want to achieve. And really determining what that is and being intentional about getting there is how you define that vision.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: So let’s shift to the workplace. Yes, we are all trying to become academically inclined, achieve a degree, and then you start working in a work environment or for a company or for a certain entity. So in a perfect world, what training would be needed to make the public more aware of the importance of establishing a vision?
Dr. Jamese Sims: Leadership training is extremely important, because when we think of our leaders, we typically think of those who actually have a vision. And so there are different types of leadership training that you can take that’s available out there. But also, like I said, project management training is something that has been very beneficial, project and program management training.
You want to pursue things that have a broad perspective of actually how to be a leader. I think that so often we become expertise on the technical side, of course, which is extremely important. But when it comes to understanding what it takes to be a visionary and to actually be able to start something and bring it to a finish, we have to have more soft skills that are included in our daily practices, and so training that allows you to understand what we mean by setting goals.
There are people who may think that setting a goal is just saying, “Well, I want to do X, Y, and Z.” That’s a goal, that may be what you want to do, but how are you going to get there? Is this attainable? Does it have a timeline?
And I also want to speak about timelines because so often we set these goals and we have this vision and we know exactly when we want it to be complete. But what I found is that we may try certain things along the way. We may experience failures, which turn out to be lessons.
And in doing so, we may not see that vision at the exact time that we want to see it or that we thought that we were going to see it. But again, it’s important to have it written down somewhere, because when those things happen, we want to know where it is that we’re still trying to go.
And you want to make sure that you are in some training that teaches you how to be resilient and how to persevere through different obstacles. How can you think critically and problem solve as you go along?
I am a firm believer in going to therapy, because having a psychologist oftentimes can help you define where it is that you want to go in times where things may seem a little crazy, where things may seem like they’re over the place. Having someone to talk to and steer you back on the road that you want to travel on is extremely important. And so not only having training, but having a strong support system, I think, will make you very successful.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I really agree with you that mental health is very important, especially during this pandemic that we are all experiencing.
And so I want to go back to something that you mentioned. You used the term soft skills. So can you help our audience delineate the difference between soft skills and hard skills? And then on top of that, does every person possess the skills to create and execute a vision?
Dr. Jamese Sims: Yes. So the soft skills are those things that you can take with you, no matter what position it is that you are in. For example, being able to facilitate a meeting in a proper way and actually having that meeting be productive and reach the end goal, the purpose of it, that’s a soft skill that not everyone has or that not everyone has practiced in order to become a great facilitator.
Being able to lead a team is also a soft skill. These are things that you can take with you. If you get a new job, this is a skill set that you have, communication skills, being able to speak clearly. Also, being able to write to different audiences, write papers and different documents, this is another skill that’s a soft skill, because no matter what the topic is, you have the ability to do it. And so that’s what we mean by those soft skills.
The hard skills are the more technical skills that are very specific to a certain area or field. And so we need those as well, but it’s the soft skills that will really open up more doors for you.
And I do believe that everyone has the skill to create and execute a vision. Now, I say that everyone has the skill, or I should say that we all have the ability, but it does take practice and it does take work to actually cultivate those skills.
And if we feel that we are lacking in that area, then we have to be honest with ourselves and say, “Okay. Here, I’m being ineffective. I don’t think that I’m getting where I want to go. How do I reset?” And it’s totally okay to take a moment and reset and say, “I need to reach out and take more training or talk to someone, get a mentor, and recreate my vision even,” if that’s the case, but really and truly understand that, “Okay, I need to develop some new skills or enhance the ones that I have.”
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: I like what you said about resetting, because sometimes your vision might need to be tweaked as you continue on your path forward. So how do you ensure that your vision is realized?
Dr. Jamese Sims: I think it goes back to what we were talking about earlier with having the goals. First of all, when you have that vision in place, you certainly need to set your goals, both short- and long-term. But again, you have to keep in mind that you need to be flexible as well and make strategic moves. You have to be intentional about the decisions that it is that you make and be okay and comfortable with saying no to things that are not aligned with your vision.
There may be times where things sound really, really good, and they may fit bits and pieces of what the overall vision is, or it may help you reach one goal, but how does it fit the overall picture? You have to be extremely strategic. And that also means that you may say yes to some things that look like, in the short term, they’re going to set you back, but have long-term benefits.
And so I think that one way to ensure the vision is to continue to go back to what that vision is, because we can get so caught up in everyday life that we just start going with the flow. And when that happens, or even if we experienced burnout, we have to take a step back and say, “Okay, where is it that I really want to go here? Am I following the plan that I had out? Am I saying yes when I should be saying no? Am I saying no when I should be saying yes?”
These are things that we constantly have to check in with ourselves on, because it’s our vision, it should be personal, and no one else can live that vision out but us. So really and truly making sure that you value that vision and what it is that you want to do is extremely important.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: That is wonderful. So most companies have a vision. They have a mission. It’s proudly displayed in all of their high-level documents, on their website, in their social media campaigns. But when it comes to an individual vision, how do you distinguish between vision and mission and even goals?
Dr. Jamese Sims: So the vision is the big picture. It’s the overall idea of whatever it is that you are creating or what your office is trying to do. It’s that overall big picture.
And then you drill down to the mission. The mission is a little bit more specific that talks about what it is that you actually want to provide, I would say. If you think about having customers, what is your mission to the customers that you’re looking to provide for? And then the goals are how you are going to achieve the mission and ultimately the vision for your office.
When we talk about goals, we typically think of short-term goals within the next three years, right? That’s usually what we mean when we say short-term.
And then there’s usually a set of goals that are, say, for the next three to five years, and then we can go beyond that. And so when you’re identifying what these goals are, you do still want them to be a little high level. But again, you want to make sure that you are making goals that are attainable, that you’re putting that time to them of when you want them to be completed and reached.
And in defining all of this, and I think that it’s great to do this at a personal level as well, you know, understand what your vision is. What’s your mission? Whether we’re talking about your career or whether we’re talking about your family, it’s important to have these things in mind as you go along, because this is really and truly how you can be successful and how you grow, I think.
Because if we don’t have these visions in place, how do we know that we’re growing? And that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to grow and then to assist others in their growing. And so we have to have the big picture. And then under that big picture, we have to know how we’re going to achieve it.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: So as we start to wrap up, what are some resources that you have used or provided in the past to help individuals become more aware of the importance of creating a vision?
Dr. Jamese Sims: One of the first things that I would say is, if you know a little bit about what it is that you are looking to achieve, find a mentor who is already doing what it is that you see yourself doing in the future, because having a mentor and having a network will really and truly take you beyond where you can go alone. I think that is extremely important.
Also, mentors in your network can often speak things into you or see things about yourself that you may not be able to see. And so it’s important to have people who are positive and honest with you in your life as you go along your journey.
The other thing that I would say is that I definitely believe in having a higher power. I have strong Christian beliefs that have definitely helped me to be resilient, to keep persevering, and to remain hopeful as I go along through life, because we will experience some things in life that can throw us off course. And it’s important for us to know that there is hope, that we are still here for a reason, and every moment counts.
The other thing that I would say is you can find anything on the internet. If there’s a topic that you want to learn more about, go research it. And again, ask people that you may be able to contact about it. Because there are so many things out there that we can do with the technology that we have, so many positive things that we can do, that we couldn’t do several years ago. And so we have to take advantage of that as well.
There are many books that are available. I love self-help books that you can read that can really propel you forward, I think. So it’s really a matter of finding what works for you along the way.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your perspective on this issue. This conversation has been so powerful. And thank you for joining me today for this podcast.
Dr. Jamese Sims: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Kandis Wyatt: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. As a reminder, you can learn more about these topics and more by signing up for APU bimonthly newsletter. So until our next podcast, be well and be safe.