Meet Kelli Hendrickson, STEM PhD & Career Coach for Women in Higher Ed

We have the power to MAKE OUR OWN PATH as women of STEM working in higher education.

Because, if we don’t rewrite the rules and create a new, sustainable vision for our work in STEM…no one else is going to do it for us.

It’s time for STEM careers to include: Success, Time, Energy, and Meaning!

And there’s no better time to start than now!

I’m Dr. Kelli Hendrickson,

Ph.D. in STEM, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and card-carrying member of the squeezed generation – with demands on both sides of the timeline.

Here’s what I discovered (the hard way):

WORK IN HIGHER ED IS LIKE A GAS –

IT FILLS UP WHATEVER SPACE YOU ALLOW IT!

While playing all the roles on the home front – parenting, kids parties, tidy house, potty training – I gave work an EQUALLY large space to fill.

I was juggling it ALL, expertly.
Smile on my face.
“Don’t ever let them see me sweat.”

I spent well over a DECADE on that hamster wheel…

…sweating it out (on the inside only) – performing research, publishing papers, writing grants, advising students.

A lot of time was spent thinking THIS is what I wanted … so this is satisfying (right?).

As time went on, I found myself RESENTFUL of the time that working within higher education DEMANDED of me without a lot of recognition or acknowledgment. 

Every SUCCESS felt like – and yes, BUT there is still MORE TO DO.  

I could NOT see a way OUT of this cycle. I felt very STUCK without any idea of where I would go IF I decided to leave. 

Then, in 2018, I lost a very dear friend. And it jolted me into a new level of awareness.

As I processed that loss, it became apparent that my grief wasn’t the only thing that was making me incredibly unhappy. I needed to face that personal truth head-on if I were ever going to be able to MOVE FORWARD.

So I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it was that I ACTUALLY ENJOYED about my job. And started parsing out what about my job was making me so unhappy.  

WHAT IT CAME DOWN TO IS THAT I HAD BEEN WORKING SO HARD FOR SO LONG WITHOUT KNOWING WHY.  

I never, EVER stopped and asked myself what I was working so hard for or towards.  No one in my circles asked me this either. I think everyone assumed I knew the answer to this question.  

OR, QUITE POSSIBLY, AS STEM PEOPLES, THIS QUESTION NEVER OCCURS AS BEING RELEVANT TO US.  

Maybe the loss of my friend helped me realize that if you only have ONE LIFE, and it’s shorter than you expected it to be, you really should be doing things that MEAN SOMETHING to you in a way that FEELS RIGHT for you. 

This lengthy process of grieving and questioning led me to add coaching to my multifaceted portfolio.

I am a STEM Ph.D. currently working full-time in higher ed (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

  • Doctor of Science (Sc. D) in Ocean Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science (B. S.) in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Cincinnati
  • You can check out my Research Portfolio here

And I’m an Associate Certified Coach who supports other women in STEM who are feeling disillusioned in higher education to uncover their something MORE TO ENJOY. 

Going into things with my eyes open is my new intention.

Through this (ongoing) process of doing more of the things that MEAN SOMETHING to me (in a way that also FEELS RIGHT), 

  • I make choices about work/life because they are relevant to what experience I want from them.  
  • I speak up in meetings and have started making my seat at the table. 
  • I push back to the people in my work circles who take my time and energy for granted or expect them to be limitless.
  • I feel like I have fight left in me to take on the battles I WANT to fight.  
  • I say NO a lot more, without regret or concern it’ll be bad for my career – because I know what I WANT in my career.  
  • I recognize when I’m sliding into my old ways. Telltale signs of resentment creeping back in or wondering what happened to my time and energy for the things I want for myself.

I also know that CHECKING IN WITH MYSELF, and often, keeps me on my path. Pausing occasionally to ask myself: 

AM I WORKING/LIVING THE WAY I WANT?
IS THIS STILL RIGHT FOR ME?

Because if I do THIS, then I know I won’t fall into the trap that I was in before.

These days, I feel SO much more grounded!

  • I feel hopeful and already SUCCESSFUL. 
  • I feel like I have TIME for the “things” I WANT to do and accomplish. 
  • Even though I am tired at the end of the day, I still have the ENERGY to want to go back to it the next day. 
  • I have found the MEANING of my work by knowing the career I want to have.

In other words, I have created a new vision and reality for my STEM career in higher ed – one with more Success, Time, Energy, Meaning. 

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. But it feels so much lighter. Freeing.

And, without a doubt, I KNOW that this IS also POSSIBLE for YOU

Kelli Hendrickson: Beyond the titles

marvel movie legos

Cold weather usually has me hunkering down into hibernation mode. That’s when I get my fill of Marvel movies, sci-fi/fantasy, quirky comedies, and Ted Lasso! I love a good pizza and don’t forget the piled-high plate of nachos, all of the fixings, the spicier the better

shoes, footware, grounded

My children (teenagers now), while the source of a lot of my grey hair, keep me young. They make me laugh, usually at my own expense.  They keep me sassy, because I have to keep up with being teen-splained on an almost daily basis. And they keep me grounded, because they could care less that I have a Ph.D. 

cottage, late, water, sunset

One thing that is always consistent with my more peaceful times is being on or near WATER. In the summer, I like to kayak and wakesurf. Year-round, I fantasize about having a forever home with a sunset view that I watch every night with a seasonal drink (wine, festive spirits, cognac…it depends). Ironically, I used to be more of a sunrise girl but the SUNSET thing feels like a way to say goodbye to a well-earned/worked day.

There is an art to creating how we want to work and live rather than just summoning up the discipline to get stuff done.”

Kelli Hendrickson

Curious about how a Career Coach can support you to navigate the system without sacrificing success or satisfaction as a STEM PhD working in higher education? 

Let’s chat! Book your complimentary, no-pressure 30+ minute session today.

Dr. Kelli Hendrickson lives in North Carolina, USA. She delivers her Career Coaching services for Women in STEM locally or anywhere online. Time zone EST/EDT.