STEM Career Profile: Dr. J'Tia Hart

December 3, 2015 -

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J'Tia Hart
Q. What is your name and current position?
A. J’Tia Hart, Technical Nonproliferation Specialist, Argonne National Laboratory, Global Security Science Division.

I’m a nuclear engineer by training, but because of my work on non-proliferation, the more appropriate title is technical non-proliferation specialist is the more appropriate term.

Non-proliferation relates to policies and approaches to stop the spread of weapons of mass destructions. It ranges from putting together an agreement for certain nations to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, or scientists working on a machine to get adequate measurements to make sure nuclear material is where it needs to be. It ranges from policy to all technical aspects.

Q. What does your organization do?
A. We are a Department of Energy funded research and development center. Our job is to do science, with different focus areas. The focus area that I fall into is National Security, we also have Bioscience, Accelerator Test Facility (ATF), energy security, and environment focus areas. We do big things in science.

Q. What do you do on a daily basis?
A. Two days are never the same, which is what I like about it. But it’s either in the office or out. In the office is analysis and research to support development of nonproliferation policy. For example, today I took time and looked up technologies that had non-proliferation implications, and had a teleconference with other scientists that are familiar with the topic on how we would assess this technology, based on how it could be used and what assessment criteria is valid. I am also planning a nonproliferation seminar for people who work in the federal complex. Part of my job is assessment and learning, and the other part is teaching and outreach. I do the same type of things out of the office. For example, in a few weeks I’ll have a larger meeting at Los Alamos National Labs, and a few weeks later I’ll be in Ghana to collaborate on growing nuclear infrastructure to support nuclear power development. A cool part is talking to people and the discussions we have. I get to use science and math and I get to work with people to accomplish goals that mean something.

Q. What best part of your job?

A. I work with really smart people which is amazing. And, I get to interact with diverse groups and help people.

Q. What degrees have you earned and from where?
A. A BS in Industrial Engineering from Florida State, and a MS, and PhD in Nuclear Engineering, from University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Q. When you were working towards your first degree, did you ever imagine that you would end up where you have?
A. No. I didn’t want to be an engineer, I wanted to go into business, but my mom said I should try it. I found out what engineers do and found out how cool it could be. I liked that it wasn’t subjective. For example, with a math problem, you go through the steps. There is some trial and error, but it’s not if somebody likes what you do, it’s based in fact and theory.

Q. What took you from your first degree to the point you are now? In other words, what was your career path?
A. I wanted to do business, but my mom told me to try engineering. Like most girls, I said OK, because I wanted to do something to help people. At first I thought I wanted to do biomedical engineering. The closest engineering discipline to being a doctor. I ended up pursuing chemical/biomedical, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I changed to industrial because it was more systems and putting technical systems together. It is how things fit together in a larger sense. I change from industrial to nuclear as a result of being in Navy ROTC. When I went on a nuclear submarine, it had both nuclear power and weapons, this technology has a dual purpose: to provide power for years at a time, and the same power and energy source, could destroy things. I knew that it needed to be controlled and I could do that, and help people. That is how I got into non-proliferation.

Q. What were some of the significant challenges you encountered along the way?
A. In engineering, there is a certain stereotype, or demographic, and sometimes when you are not within that demographic you feel alienated, whether it is real or perceived. This is something I encounter to this day. That doesn’t foster involvement and collaboration. I used to be terrified of speaking up, and then I purposefully decided to be more confident. Now I have gotten the remark that “you’re so confident.” And I’d much rather have it that way.

Q. How did you overcome these challenges?
A. I tell this story pretty often. When I was in graduate school and wanted to quit, I took a semester off and had the opportunity to become a fashion model, which seems like a dream career. What I realized while I did that was there are confidence issues with that too. I realized that any goal you want to achieve is going to take work and is probably difficult at times, it’s just a different challenge. I wanted to put the same effort into STEM rather than paying attention to my physical appearance. I made the decisions to be more confident and be fearless.

Q. What would you say are the key milestones in your career pathway?

A. For me, getting my MS and PhD. It’s interesting because when you get internships, nobody at the national lab level wants an undergrad, because you are still learning. Once I had my MS, I could finish my degree in this area and got better internships. Once I had my PhD, it allowed me to get into a national lab. Now that I’m 6 years into my career, I’m leading projects and being recognized, which feels great. I feel like every 5 years is this new level of moving up which is good.

Q. What advice would you give to an undergraduate student in a STEM field?
A. Look into your opportunities. If you think you are interested in something, do a job shadow. Know what you are getting into, even within your field. If I had to be in a lab, I wouldn’t like it. I had to make sure that within my field and my area, it wasn’t just the subject matter but how I used it on a daily basis. Consider if it is a clock in or free hours setting, working alone or with others, etc. With Women, sometimes we have different factors that are important to us in our work, so that is something to take into account, too.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t addressed?
A. Be true to yourself, and true to who you are. Don’t try to conform to STEM or who you think you need to be. The great thing about diversity, is you can add something new. If we all came from the same place, you would get the same answer to a problem.

Want to learn more about Argonne National Laboratory? Click HERE

What to learn more about Dr. J’Tia Hart and her commitment to STEM outreach? Click HERE.