My interest in engineering dates back to when I was seven and started asking my father questions like “how cars work” and “how do we turn oil into fuel for cars”. I thought I was going to study to be an oil and gas engineer which was a good idea given that we lived in Venezuela, one of the major oil producing countries in the world. At that time, I didn’t think that engineering was considered to be more a boys than a girls profession but neither of my parents tried to discourage me from studying a male-dominated subject. Instead, they felt proud to have a child interested in one of the most important professions in the country. By the time I got into my teens, I became fascinated with life sciences and decided to study something that would allow bridging my interest in technology and passion for medical subjects. I read Electronic Engineering at Simón Bolívar University, Venezuela, and then I pursued an MSc. in Electric Engineering at Universidad Central de Venezuela. My MSc project was on Brain Topographic Mapping based on the Electroencephalogram and had direct application in the University’s Hospital.
After I completed my MSc, I came to Oxford University as a graduate student and obtained a DPhil in the Department of Engineering Science with the thesis “The Study of the Sleep and Vigilance Electroencephalogram Using Neural Network Methods” in 2001. Since then, I worked at the Invensys University Technology Centre (UTC) for Advanced Instrumentation at Oxford, carrying out research and developing software for the design of self-validating instruments. I moved back into biomedical research in August last year, and am currently working at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the Department of Engineering Science Oxford University. My project involves the development of software to optimise the management of patients with Chronic Heart Failure or Pulmonary Hypertension using an implantable sensor.
Venezuela is a relatively young country and it has a great need for engineers to build the physical and technological infrastructure that supports the country’s development. Our perception of the word engineering greatly differs from the stereotype of an engineer in England, which is often one of a man in a boiler suit with grease on his hands. The Spanish word engineering is “ingeniería” which means to apply the intellect or “ingenio” to solve practical problems and it is associated with a high status, often higher than pure science.
I would encourage any woman with an interest in applying science to society to consider a career in engineering. Engineering is found in any aspect of our civilization, and good engineering can make our lives better while minimizing the impact on the environment. As with any other job, working in engineering can be hard sometimes but it is also very rewarding in its creativity and usefulness. As an engineer, I enjoy a very stimulating job environment with frequent challenges. Women have the opportunity to bring a different perspective to the way of seeing and solving a problem. In general, we women are natural communicators and if we join this ability to an analytic mind, we can become great professionals in the art of using technology to serve the needs of society and its environment.