Four women moving up in the ranks of the National Institutes of Health were picked recently to tell their "Success Stories" to colleagues.

About 30 women had been expected to show up at the seminar, sponsored by the Women's Organization of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Instead, almost 100 women and men overflowed the room to learn the foursome's career secrets.

What they heard were the stories of women who entered the work world in low-level jobs -- one as a high school dropout -- and made it to the upper ranks of the federal bureacracy. Despite rejections and setbacks along the way, "persistence" and "a sense of humor," they concluded, paid off.

The seminar kicked off a two-day career development workshop at the institute.Here are excerpts of their stories:

Vivian Ferguson, a 10th-grade dropout, figures she has attended at least 25 professional advancement courses since she took a starting-level GS-2 job as a card punch operator at the National Institutes of Health in 1970.

In those 10 years -- while raising two children -- she has obtained her high school degree and been promoted to a GS-9 as a personnel management specialist with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Her advancement began early, "when I became bored with the machines." Her first request, though, to take a shorthand course, initially was turned down.

That sparked an argument, says Ferguson, 29. "We went back and forth." Finally, her office agreed to pay for the training if she took it at night after work.

A subsequent boss, however, was more understanding as she took the succession of courses aimed at personnel work. "He was always there to encourage and push me."

Fu Sing Temple was something of a grade-school math whiz, but in junior high school a counselor advised her: "All girls go into business courses. There's no reason for you to take those hard math courses."

So she skipped the academics and signed up for high school classes in bookkeeping and instruction on what turned out to be an outdated calculating machine. She practiced on the device for three terms. "Only to find out," after graduation, that "it was obsolete."

Temple has long since overcome that educational detour, but it wasn't easy. For years it delayed the climb up the career ladder she so obviously relishes.

Now 41, she is an Equal Employment Opportunity coordinator with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a GS-11 position.

Soon after leaving high school, Temple married her first husband and they had a daughter. Then, she says, "my marriage fell apart" and her daughter became temporarily ill. She took a "crash" course as a key punch operator, working day and night to support herself.

"I was surviving," she says. But "when you reach the bottom, it's time to say, 'Start picking yourself up.'

"My growth began," she says, when she took a job on the Berkeley campus of the University of California as a key punch supervisor. She saw males new to the department "already tracked for management." She also wanted to move up, but was kept in her same job. "You need a degree," a supervisor told her.

At age 30, she decided to take an assertiveness training course. As a woman of Asian descent, she says, "I was short, had a small voice and wore a short skirt. I looked cute. I wanted to change my image."

After the course, "I went back to the boss and said, "I want' -- and in a stronger voice. I told him it would be advantageous to him if a woman got ahead in his department."

Eventually, she was accepted into a program that allowed her to continue working while getting a four-year bachelor's degree in psychology from Berkeley in 1977. Along the way, she remarried. "I had a husband who kept telling me I was going to make it."

There were personal "sacrifices." She sometimes experienced "guilty feelings" when she left her daughter for work and job and her husband "without his dinner." She's philosophical about that now: "He learned how to cook."

When her husband took a job offer in Washington, she faced one more big hurdle: finding a job in a new city. In a half year, she says, "I applied for at least 400 federal positions." She was fighting, in part, a hiring freeze and stiff competition. And "I wouldn't take anything less than a GS-9."

At the same time, "I started setting myself up -- it meant a lot of networking," including doing volunteer career counseling, teaching workshops and making contact with Asian groups.

Finally, her persistence paid off and she landed an NIH job. "From now on," she told the seminar, "there's no stopping."

Carol Tippery joined NIH in 1963 as a GS-4 clerk steno. She had given very little thought to any future goals.

Then she and her husband separated. "I had always worked just to supplement my husband's pay. Now I decided I had to have a career."

She first took an effective writing course. Then she entered a program in which she could get time off from her job to start on a bachelor's degree at Montgomery College.

She "gained confidence," she says as she raised two children while managing school and a job. At the same time, she was establishing her professional reputation by serving on various NIH committees. "It's invaluable experience, and a chance to meet people."

Her goal by this time was to become a grants management specialist. Before she got the position, she estimates "I applied 100 times -- for everything under the sun above a GS-7."

At 36, she is now a GS-11 with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Persistence," she says, "pays off."

Weltha Logan, who is 52, spent 10 years as a GS-9, which was near the top of her career ladder as a bio lab technician with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Only recently, "after years of thinking I was not going to," she says, "I got a promotion to GS-11."

But in those 10 years she earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in psychology. An academic complication resulted in her being awarded the master's in the month before she got her bachelor's. She also has done volunteer counseling, including helping parents work with their children.

Now, after three earlier tries, she has been accepted into a three-year management intern program with the Department of Health and Human Services. She currently is working with the White House Conference on Aging, with the goal of becoming a social science analyst in the field of aging.

"How do people keep going?" she asks. "There's a tremendous energy that comes with achievement."