Women in Blue
By Ruxandra Lupu
Women in BlueMar 21, 2022
Navigating the unknown: a chat with Dr. Elena Paifelman about growing self-trust, freedom and multidisciplinary environments in marine robotics
In the 11th episode of Women in Blue we had a chat with Dr. Elena Paifelman, Postdoctoral Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy.
Elena Paifelman received her Master degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2015 from La Sapienza University Rome and the PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics in 2019 from the same university. In her PhD she focused on the implementation of an Optimal Control algorithm applied to underwater systems affected by fluid-structure memory effects represented by integral-differential equations of motion. Since 2019 she has been a Postdoctoral researcher at Institute of Marine Engineering of the National Research Council of Italy working on different projects such as SWIFT CONTROL, where she provides scientific support in the study of control of turbulent boundary-layer for the reduction of vibrations.
In the interview Elena reveals how she followed her passion for math and had a ‘chance’ encounter with marine robotics during her PhD, a field where she decided to remain in, because of its multidisciplinarity and innovation. With Elena we tapped into the gender gap challenge surrounding fields such as mechanical engineering and ways of bridging this gap both through education as well as self-confidence. According to Elena, becoming more audacious and following one’s own passion despite of stereotypical mentalities and personal convictions is a process that comes with becoming more mature. According to Elena: you need to be able to start comfortable in your environment and I think this is something in my view mostly related to age.
Enjoy the episode!
Getting the whole picture: a talk with Ivana Mikolić about creativity, agency and leadership in project management
In the 10th episode of Women in Blue we invited Ivana Mikolić to to have a chat about her work as a Project Leader at NATO.
Since 2020, Ivana Mikolic is an EC Projects Leader at NATO STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE), and also serves as the CMRE NATO Science and Technology Board Secretary. She is leading 11 maritime scientific and research projects funded by the EU and EDA. She obtained her Master's degree in Control Engineering and Automatization at the University of Zagreb Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (UNIZG-FER) in 2012. During her studies and after, she was a member of many NGOs, private companies, organizations, and institutions where she designed, developed, and organized more than 200 cultural, educational and sports projects and events. Between 2015 and 2020 she was a Project Manager of 16 EU-funded scientific and research projects at the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies – LABUST and Laboratory for Robotics and Intelligent Control Systems – LARICS at UNIZG-FER. Ivana is the recipient of the stipend International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, and was awarded as one of the three Best Young Project Managers in Croatia in 2018 and in 2019.
In the interview Ivana explains how due to her passion for the managerial side of technical projects she has chosen a career in project management, how managing festivals and concerns with more than 20.000 audience members prepared her for project management and the way in which her technical education enables her to adopt an efficient problem-solving approach in projects. In the interview Ivana tells us more about the autonomy and creativity that project management as a job offers to her. For Ivana, project management is not only about reports and numbers, but also about creativity and freedom. For Ivana project management enables you to: “tailor your day as you feel like, as long as you meet the deadlines. It is such a broad term that even your role you can develop it as you want.”
We hope you enjoy the episode.
A woman engineer @ NATO: a talk with Dr. Caamano about self-trust, collaboration & welcoming change
In the 9th episode of our "Women in Blue" interview series we invited Prof. Dr. Pilar Caamano Sobrino to talk about herwork as an M&S Scientists at the NATO STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation.
Dr. Caamano manages the M&S services for training in NATO since 2016. Before this she worked more than 10 years inacademia and covered several roles such as: Visiting Scientist, Adjunct Professor and Visiting Postdoctoral Researcher.She graduated in Computer Engineering from the University of Coruna in 2005, from where she also obtained her PhD in2011. She published more than 40 articles in peer reviewed papers and received in 2012 the IEEE EAIS Best Paper Awardfor "A Procedural Long Term Memory for Cognitive Robotics".
In the interview, Dr. Caamano shares her the story of how she has followed her passion for engineering and taken up aposition in a practically exclusively male-dominated field at NATO. She confesses: “ it was a shock, it was such a bigchange. It was an environment I didn’t know at all, a topic that I didn’t know at all, I was travelling every two weeks toNATO commands to talk to military people about training. I just jumped from working on autonomous systems andartificial intelligence in Spanish academia to talking to people about military training.”
Hope you enjoy the episode!
Deep sea talks: Andreia Afonso about the unknown, determination and women's position as ROV pilots
The 8th episode of our "Women in Blue" interview series is a particular one. In this special edition we invited Andreia Afonso to speak about an unconventional and very particular job, that of ROV pilot.
Since 2008 Andrei Afonso is ROV pilot at the Task Group for the Extension of the Continental Shelf, a Governmental organization acting under the Portuguese Minister of Agriculture, Sea, Environment and Territory Planning, that conducts applied and fundamental marine research and the gathering of a large multidisciplinary marine data collection, especially in the fields of hydrography and marine geology and geophysics. In her team, Andreia works with other 4 male colleagues, forming a multidisciplinary group of technicians and researchers. She has been part of numerous expeditions, dealing with different marine equipments, multidisciplinary data analysis and information management of large data volumes.
In the interview Andreia shares the story of her career path that took her from her studies in oceanography to a very technical field, that of ROV pilot. Throughout the interview we touch upon different aspects: from the uncertainty of leaving 'known' ground, to the difficulties of having to prove yourself as a woman in a physically challenging context, to the importance of being supported by family and your team, but also the importance of an equalitarian education that encourages curiosity instead of fostering gender divides. Having dealt with many challenges to get where she is today, Andreia advises that 'if you feel you are different because you are drawn to a technical field, don't. Do not give up even if the people around you tell you that this is not the right field for you. You will figure that out. You will choose and adjust. Go for it. It's challenging but it's also nice stories that you can tell your friends."
Closing the loop: a talk with Dr. Mazzolai about pioneers, faith and interdisciplinarity in robotic research
In the seventh episode of our "Women in Blue" interview series we invited Prof. Dr. Barbara Mazzolai to talk about bio-inspired robotics.
Prof. Dr. Barbara Mazzolai is Associate Director for Robotics and Director of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics Laboratory at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). From February 2011 to March 2021 she was the Director of the IIT Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR). She graduated in Biology at the University of Pisa (Italy) in 1995, obtained an International Master Diploma in Eco-Management in 1998 at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SSSA), and in 2011 the Ph.D. in Microsystems Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Having a long experience as researcher and project manager of European projects in the topics of biorobotics, soft robotics and environmental robotics, Dr. Mazzolai has published more than 270 papers in international journals, books and conference proceedings.
In the interview, Dr. Mazzolai shares her complex research path, that took her from biology, to eco-management and eventually to microsystems engineering, closing the loop on her interest in biology/plants. In the interview we find out which are the challenges of coming up with breakthrough research, the role of interdisciplinary in today's complex robotics research environment, as well as the importance of following one's own passion and keeping the faith that with motivation and hard work results will follow. Dr. Mazzolai strongly believes that women's role is essential in new and transdisicplinary research contexts as: "women in technology can bring something different, in terms of approach, in terms of vision, which is not necessarily better but different. This is exactly what we need, a different vision and approach to new problems that we have (e.g. green technology)."
Enjoy the episode!
“The answer is science”: a conversation with Dr. Mezzani about the importance of early education, passion for research and risk-taking
In the sixth episode of our "Women in Blue" interview series we invited Dr. Federica Mezzani to talk about applying mechanical engineering to solutions that tackle important societal challenges.
Dr. Mezzani is a contract researcher within the Theoretical and Applied Mechanics group of the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at La Sapienza University, Rome, where in 2019 she also received her PhD. In her PhD project she developed the experimental campaign related to her thesis at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Her several international experiences include the internship at the BMW for her master thesis, the research activity at the University of Auckland (NZ), the collaboration within the Virgo project for the gravitational wave discovery. In this context, she was awarded with the Special Breakthrough prize in Fundamental Physics and the Gruber Cosmology prize.
In the interview, Dr. Mezzani shares the story of how research came as a natural option for her, of how the breakthroughs offered by research provide her with variety in everyday work but also the personal enrichment of her own knowledge. Diving deeper into her personal story as a researcher, we discover how setting clear objectives and going forward with determination are essential for advancing research, but also how the support of colleagues is essential for overcoming challenges. Using a concrete example from her own involvement in the Italian Task Force ‘Women for a new Renaissance’, Dr. Mezzani sheds light on how educating towards equality from an early age on is crucial in setting the right conditions for a more inclusive research environment. Dr. Mezzani enforces the fact that: ”We really have to work hard on young people and try to follow their entire career, empower them to follow all scientific fields and maybe find even a new way to teach scientific fields. Then they can grow up without thinking that scientific field are for guys”.
Enjoy the episode!
‘Algorithms we live by’: a talk with Dr. Daniela de Palma on the importance of hard work, self-trust and support for navigating a research career
In the fifth episode of the ‘Women in Blue’ interview series we met Dr. Daniela de Palma to talk about her work at the University of Salento, the Department of Innovation Engineering, Lecce/Italy.
Dr. de Palma is currently an Assistant Professor, teaching Estimation and Data Analysis with Applications. She conducts research in the areas of modeling, navigation, guidance, and control of autonomous robotic vehicles, observers and estimation theory, modelling and parameter identification. Dr. de Palma has published over 20 papers in international journals and proceedings of international conferences on the subject and has contributed to several national and international projects in the area of autonomous robotics and autonomous underwater vehicles including PRIN MARIS (2013-2016), EU H2020 WiMUST (2015-2018), EU H2020 DexROV (2015-2018), EU H2020 ROBUST (2015-2020) and EUMarineRobots (2018-2021).
In the interview, Dr. de Palma recounts how she chose a career in marine robotics and the way that she worked towards achieving her goals while becoming a mother (she wrote her PhD thesis during maternity leave!). Having worked both in the industry and academia, Dr. de Palma sheds light on the main differences she sees between the two sectors, as well as on how the gender gap plays out in her sector of activity. The interview touches upon a variety of topics that can shed more light on the implications of being at the same time a professor, researcher, mother and an enthusiast robot builder.
'Eeluminating' careers: a talk with Prof. Kristin Pettersen about self-trust, ambition and work-family balance
In the fourth episode of our "Women in Blue" interview series we invited Professor Kristin Pettersen to tell us more about her work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
Professor Pettersen teaches engineering cybernetics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) where she has held the positions of Head of Department and Director of the NTNU ICT Program of Robotics. She is also an Adjunct Professor with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and a Key Scientist with the Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems. Her research interests focus on nonlinear control of mechanical systems with applications to robotics, with a special emphasis on marine robotics and snake robotics. She is also the co-founder of Eelume AS, Trondheim, an NTNU spin-off company in marine robotics.
In the interview, Professor Pettersen shares the story of her own career path in marine robotics, of how in 1996 she became the first female researcher in marine robotics at NTNU and how it took 18 years to get a female colleague. Diving deeper into her personal story as a researcher, we discover how cultivating one's passion for work requires consistency, focus and determination, but also support and understanding from colleagues and the broader social environment. Using concrete examples from her own experience, Professor Pettersen sheds light on how children's education but also the socio-cultural context and public system need to work together to foster an equalitarian society. Professor Pettersen strongly believes that "there is no particular gender that is well-wired for a job in robotics. We're all individuals and carry with us our own set of abilities, interests and personality. My advice is to pursue what you love doing, what excites and resonates with you, because when you do something that you love, you will get good at it."
Natural drive: Anja Babic about exposure, inclinations and normalizing women's image in research
In the third episode of the "Women in Blue" interviews series we talk with Anja Babic about the unique possibilities offered by the field of marine robotics, but also about courage, vision and normalizing women’s position in this field.
Anja Babić is Research Associate at the University of Zagreb and a member of the Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technologies. Her research interests cover evolutionary, neural, and bio-inspired robotics, emergent behavior, high-level mission planning, task allocation and scheduling, and communication between both heterogeneous agents and members of a swarm. Anja has been involved in international projects such as subCULTron (submarine Cultures Perform Long-Term Robotic Exploration of Unconventional Environmental Niches), EXCELLABUST (Excelling Labust in Marine Robotics) and CADDY (Cognitive Autonomous Diving Buddy).
In the interview, Anja discusses about her passion about marine robotics, stressing the importance of being exposed early on, to the things we enjoy doing and are good at. In addition, she explores the unique potential offered by marine robotics, as well as the importance of fighting biases, deconstructing stereotypes and normalizing women’s position in this research field: “I do think that as this sort of ratio and the statistics are changing, just by the presence of women in the field brings good shifts.”
From the stars in the sky, to the deep sea - a talk with Enrica Zereik about replicability, AI and experimental control in robotics.
The second episode of the "Women in Blue" interviews series uncovers the complex research in the area of control engineering that Enrica Zereik undertakes at the Italian National Research Council.
Driven by her passion for engineering and a very strong determination and motivation to pursue her dreams, Enrica has worked in space robotics before joining the Italian National Research Council. Her research work spans across different topics, including navigation, guidance and control of autonomous vehicles, both on surface and underwater, multi-robot cooperating systems, underwater manipulation and innovative strategies for cooperative manipulation, environment perception (e.g. based on visual feedback), experimental reproducibility and evaluation metrics.
In her interview for Women in Blue, Enrica stresses the importance of personal motivation and hard work in pursuing one’s own dream career, highlighting the fact that accessibility to a career path in robotics should apply to all, both men and women: “I think that being suitable for a job in robotics is not a gender issue, nor that robotics can benefit more from a woman rather than from a man. I think that it basically is a mixture of scientific curiosity, passion and willingness to face ever new challenges, being creative in finding a working solution. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, if you are fascinated by robotics and are not afraid of challenges, you should strive and pursue a career in the field.”
If you want to discover more about Enrica Zereik’s particular career path, you can listen to the full episode.
Mapping the abyss: a talk with Prof. Chiara Petrioli about ambition, marine robotics and sustainability
The first episode of the "Women in Blue" interviews series uncovers the highly complex and multifaceted research activity that Professor Chiara Petrioli leads at the SENSES lab (Sapienza University of Rome), as well as her work as an R&D director of W•SENSE.
A true inspiration for researchers in robotics, Prof. Petrioli offers an in-depth insight into her own educational background, the motivation for pursuing such a complex career, as well as valuable advice for those interested in a career in this field.
In doing so, Prof. Petrioli stresses the importance of education and personal drive for achieving great things: "once you have these building blocks/these tools (educational foundations), then I think that this field gives you a new, huge opportunity to give your contribution to interesting problems, in things that are multidisciplinary, and where technology experts are desperately needed."
If you want to be inspired by Prof. Petrioli's story, listen to the full episode.