She's an Engineer- Elena Gaura

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Route into engineering

I obtained my BSc & MSc in Electrical Engineering in Romania (1991) and went on to do a PhD in Intelligent Sensor Systems at Coventry University, in 1998. A PhD is often necessary to become a university lecturer in the UK, which was my profession of choice. I took on my first job as a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Environment & Computing of Coventry University  in 1999, where I combined teaching with lots and lots of research (with a strong team!) and eventually became a Professor in Pervasive Computing in 2009. Since, I held various leadership positions at Coventry University.

Job description

I'm a Professor of Pervasive Computing but my role in the institution is twofold: I think of myself as an academic first and foremost, so I am constantly exploring ways pervasive computing can support society and economy. I design computing technology that is embedded into everyday objects, such as clothes, cars, homes, or infrastructures such as energy systems, food production roads and transport infrastructure, to help enrich the way in which we live our daily lives. Increasingly, this means my team and I are asking questions about how computational capabilities can benefit the most vulnerable in our society, for example, looking at how pervasive computing can inform the design of energy systems to increase access to affordable and sustainable energy in humanitarian settings.

My other role as Director of a Research Institute (Institute for Complex Systems) finds me working with other academics at Coventry University to support the university achieve its ambition in research, help colleagues gain research funding and drive projects to become the best we can be in engineering and computing in the UK and internationally. The area of pervasive computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and evidence driven research are growing at an exponential rate. In helping support research that draws upon these new and exciting fields, I hope that this leads to an increase in discoveries and innovation that improve the capacity and capability of communities, with far-reaching positive and life enriching societal and environmental impacts. 

I spend a lot of time in meetings, either supporting PhD students and colleague researchers in their work, managing a range of projects research projects from my personal portfolio as well as Institute projects, overseeing the delivery of the research agenda, and keeping on top of budgets and time sensitive programmes. I try to make time to read up on the latest research in my field and always put aside a portion of the day to catch up with my team. I spend as much time as I can contributing to the university’s effort to improve research structures, processes and culture.

I would advise that being an engineer requires more than knowledge of computing, maths, physics and chemistry - being widely read in humanities, social sciences, sociology and anthropology helps to understand and question how the world operates. Often we think as engineers the solutions lies in tech coming first, but it is vital to think about the needs and aspirations of people, especially those on the margins of society if you want to engineer products that aid in solving economic and societal issues around the world. 

My father was a field engineer and led the building of large power stations around Romania, where I was born. His job always fascinated me, and no doubt propelled me into the field of engineering. However, I felt growing up in the 80’s as a girl, the only branch of engineering that was accessible was electronics, which I pursued with a passion borne from maths, physics and a desire to make things works.

One of my proudest moments was seeing many of the 200 women scientists I trained in India for more than three years succeed against the odds in a male-dominated STEM world.

At the moment, I am working on two large scale energy projects:  HEED and EnergyREV that are centred around Sustainable Development Goal 7 in very different ways.

The HEED project adopts a data-centred approach to addressing energy demands in the context of displacement. The technologies we used in the HEED project generated data that captured the lived experiences of refugees in Rwanda and internally displaced people in Nepal. The findings can be transferred into actionable information and knowledge to improve energy systems for many communities that have little or no access to modern, affordable and sustainable energy.

In comparison, EnergyREV, where I am the LEAD for Cyber-Physical Advances in Smart Local Energy, is one of the most significant international academic programmes delivering research to accelerate the uptake, value and impact of Smart Local Energy Systems. In looking at the impact and innovation of smaller scale, decentralised technologies associated with solar, wind, storage, sensors and control systems, we aim to find ways that can produce energy that can significantly improve efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and deliver a wider range of social, environmental, and economic benefits.

E.Gaura 3 pictures