‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is the question most often posed to teenagers.

Career Day McGregor resize

Scott McGregor, President and CEO of Broadcom, speaks with a group of Broadcom MASTERS finalists.

At a gathering with STEM professionals from academia to industry, this year’s 30 Broadcom MASTERS finalists took a front row seat to their futures. The Broadcom MASTERS students explored potential career choices, mined for inspiration and took home some valuable lessons from seven panelists.

The panelists, who hailed from positions like CEO, CTO and professor, had something in common with the finalists – they have all participated in a science competition of Society for Science & the Public (SSP). Along with the soon-to-be Broadcom MASTERS alum, that’s a lot of STEM brainpower in one room!

Ajmera, who competed in an SSP competition as a youth, moderated the panel. Ajmera’s first question was a pointed one: “What inspired you as a young person?”

Jun of HVF Labs said “Science made the world fit and helped me understand the world around me. Another panelist, Michele Gilbert of Singulex said, “I wanted to know how things work and I was good at taking things apart like toasters.”

Ajmera continued to probe: “In middle school, did you dream of what you are doing today?”

Ken Biba, Managing Director and Chief Technical Officer, Novarum Inc. speaks with a finalist.

Ken Biba, Managing Director and Chief Technical Officer, Novarum Inc. speaks with a finalist.

“I thought I would be the next Jane Goodall and study gorillas,” Gilbert said. “I still have a passion for gorillas, but I now earn my living designing laser systems and instruments to diagnose diseases. I’m not where I thought I would be, but happy where I am.”

Gilbert imparted this advice to the finalists: “Get a good science background and you can change to follow your passions and interests. If my interests change, I can try something else.”

For Broadcom’s McGregor, the technologies that Broadcom designs (and its customers) didn’t exist when he was in middle school.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do although I was interested in science,”he said. “I liked rocks, chemistry and snakes. Even in college and grad school, I changed my mind many times. I studied theoretical math, economics and then psychology because I was interested in artificial intelligence.”

Each panelist was then asked why they do what they do.

Biba, Managing Director and Chief Technical Officer of Novarum Inc., shared his passion for bringing wireless communications into space. “If I can’t fly into space, then at least some of my technology can get there,” Biba said.

Erica Brand with the Consumer Hardware Division of Google, shared her interest in automation and sensors to help society make smarter choices.

Ajmera spoke on her first career as founder of a global nonprofit, Global Fund for Children. She took the skills she developed and has coupled them with her passion for science in her current leadership position at SSP.

The finalists broke into smaller groups in order to dialogue with individual panelists and ask more questions.

McGregor discussed testing methodologies with Rising Star Award winner Evelyn Bodoni, whose project on academic dishonesty in schools concluded that most students (51 percent) will cheat if given the chance and if others are also cheating.

McGregor offered this advice to his group. “Think about your own values and make sure they match the values of your company or your profession,” he said. “Have confidence and try not to be too self-critical. Be assertive and stand up for yourself. You are probably better than you think you are.”

Another finalist, Naya Menezes, who engineered headgear to better protect athletes, asked McGregor what are the most important lessons he has learned in his career. He responded, “Work as a team; it’s very important to be successful,” McGregor said. “And be willing to follow your hunches, pursue the unknown and be flexible. The way you will contribute to society in the future maybe a technology that doesn’t exist today.”