July 2022 Edition
Susan Babinec, Project Lead, Stationary Storage, ACCESS
Anyone who follows sports has likely heard the advice, “the best defense is a good offense.” It’s a pithy way to encourage athletes to take control of the pace of a game and not sit around waiting to react or change direction.
Susan Babinec, project lead of stationary storage in PSE’s ACCESS division and a competitive athlete, seems to have adopted this attitude and applied it to a long, varied and successful career in science, even when the scientific field wasn’t especially diverse.
“In the 1980s, women in science were very significantly disadvantaged due to gender,” said Babinec. “I just kept going and never used discrimination as an excuse for not pursuing my interests and achieving my goals.”
Sports, it turned out, were a simple but key way to connect with male colleagues.
“I love talking about sports,” said Babinec, who put herself through school and earned a master’s degree in chemistry and electrochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. “It did help me relate to male colleagues in a friendly and familiar way. It was natural for me.”
Today, Babinec works out daily (preferably outdoors), playing tennis, swimming, running and using her rowing machine inside during the worst weather. She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of training for a triathlon someday. Babinec is also a lifelong musician, having begun playing classical piano when she was very young. She cultivates this passion with her husband and they attend concerts year-round, including favorites during the summers at Millennium Park and Grant Park. She is ever mindful of dedicating time to family and friends she holds dear.
“I always aspire to do a better job balancing my personal life and my work life,” she said. “There are a lot of distractions and I am very focused on my work, but you have to prioritize and make time for what is most important. Be very attentive to friends and family; call your friends, stay engaged, don’t get disconnected. Personally, I ‘walk the talk,’ which means I am always chatting with someone when I’m walking outside”
At Argonne, Babinec develops and implements high-impact technologies that can help slow climate change and ultimately result in a deeply decarbonized world.
She had no mentors in science during college. In fact she was frequently and openly discouraged. However that changed once she entered the workforce, where she connected well with several senior male scientists who counseled her over many years. She has seen a real improvement for women in science and technology within the past 15 years or so.
“I don’t think the path I walked has much to do with women today,” she said. “It’s important for women to have other women to talk to and relate to, but I wouldn’t limit the possibilities and benefits of a good mentor to women. Some men can be as supportive as women.”
Babinec said she mentors several women and cares about them and their careers deeply, but she warns them they need to be realistic.
“This can be a very demanding career,” she said.