Gloria Araiza

From Mexico City, now studying Robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, UK.

Why did you choose engineering?

I have always wanted to help people. I wanted to study the beauty of human beings but also how machines could help people and make life easier for real doctors in hospitals or clinics. I chose biomedical engineering and then robotics because both are very interdisciplinary. I didn’t want to limit myself to one thing, I want multiple paths and possibilities.

What was your favourite subject at school?

My favourite subject was biology by far, but I also liked maths.  I hated physics! I knew that I would have to take some physics for biomedical engineering, but it was only one out of many subjects:  medicine, maths, biomaterials, chemistry and physics. Physics got more interesting because in the end it is all related, so you find ways of understanding it and dealing with the parts you are less interested in.I wanted to study art during secondary school, I loved drawing and painting.  I love nature and with my art I was trying to put that in my work. The same thing applies to engineering – nothing is more perfect than nature. What we are trying to do is copy what nature has, understand how it works, that’s bio-inspiration and biomimicry. 

What projects have you worked on?

So far I have designed a control system for a robotic arm. It’s bio-inspired, so we designed the system by studying the cerebellum region of the brain. Now on my PhD programme I am working on electro-stimulation for tactile sensor pads. That’s a system where you could be touching a sensor and just through changing the electrical frequencies and voltage we can make the person feel different sensations, for example different hardnesses, textures or a change in temperature. The sensor doesn’t apply any mechanical pressure, it’s just by understanding how the finger works and how nervous system uses electrical pulses to send information to the brain. It is a new technology so it could be useful for surgeons during teleoperated keyhole surgery to know how organs felt, but the applications are really wide, it is not only for medical situations.

What is it like being a female engineer?

Sometimes being a woman in engineering is challenging. It shouldn’t be, but we are still a minority. When I’m talking to other people about my work, sometimes they say things like “You don’t look like an engineer!”  I don’ t think people realise how awful it is for them to say that. I ask them: “Should I take that as an insult?” and that makes them think. I don’t feel discriminated against by other engineers, but sometimes I’ve had people say things like “How do you manage with those big machines, you’re so tiny!” I want them to realise that I am a human being just like men are, I’m just as strong. Even if I’m smaller, I want them to give me a chance to prove them wrong or let me figure it out myself, I can handle it. 

What advice would you give to other women interested in engineering?

Just be yourself. You don’t have to fit in to a stereotype. Just keep pushing to receive the same treatment, the same respect. I would definitely encourage other girls and women to become engineers.

What is good about being an engineer?

An engineer is better at solving all types of problems – finding the most efficient way to do something or build something. Engineers have to be really good at dealing with people. You learn to think in a structured way and communicate because you are always working as part of a team. To achieve the best outcomes, you can’t work on your own.

What are your dreams or goals?

My dream is to use the knowledge I’m accumulating to change my country and help people. At first I was more interested in the biomedical field, but actually it could be across a range of fields. Engineering and robotics are so diverse and interdisciplinary that they can provide many applications. I feel like I had one million paths open to me, but now studying biomedical engineering and robotics I have three million paths!