science 17.1.2019 8:19

"The icing on the cake of know-how is engineering wisdom"

Ljubljana, 17 January - Dora Domajnko was named the Female Engineer of the Year 2018 last week. The 27-year-old employee of RLS Merilna Tehnika believes she still has a long way to go before she becomes a top engineer. The ultimate stage in learning is to gain "engineering wisdom", the ability to assess whether something that you are not yet sure can be made is feasible or not, she says.

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Komenda
Dora Domajnko, the Slovenian woman engineer of 2018.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Domajnko works on the development of rotating and linear movement and turn sensors. Despite the fact that about half of the company's staff are women, the development team, where Domajnko works, is predominately male. But she has completely gotten used to the male company so she does not even notice this any more.

Women were a minority already at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, where Domajnko finished her undergraduate studies and her masters's degree. But she thinks this merely helped them stand out more. "If you work hard and you are a positive person than getting attention can be an advantage," the young engineer thinks.

Choosing a study programme was not an easy decision

The decision to study electrical engineering did not come easy for Domajnko, who was also very interested in physics. As a fresher she kept quizzing her friends from the Ljubljana Faculty of Mathematics and Physics what they were studying there, just to make sure she did not miss out on anything important.

"It was not self-evident that my decision was the right one. But over time, when all the lessons that seemed unconnected and difficult at first started to come together, I started enjoying it," Domajnko said.

Engineering work

According to Domajnko, one of the upsides of engineering is that you do not work with people, because "people can sometimes be exhausting". "In some circumstances in life I thank God I work with sensors professionally. They are predictable. If a sensor doesn't work, you find the problem and solve it. That's it."

But she thinks engineering, technical and mathematical work also leaves enough room for creativity. "It's true that everything has to be done in line with the laws of physics, you can't break those, but there is still a lot of room left within those rules. Actually, it's very important to find new approaches to problems within these restrictions."

She believes good engineers must have enough technical know-how to master mathematical principles and the technical or scientific way of thinking. "We must be aware that facts need to be checked, that nothing is certain until it is proven. If we want to develop, we have to have the desire to learn new things, listen to others and be able to work together in a group, because more and more tasks require team work."

Domajnko thinks she still has a long way to go to become a top engineer, because she feels there is still a lot of know-how she has to master and experience to gain. The ultimate stage in the learning process, according to her, is to gain "engineering wisdom", the ability to assess whether something that one does not know how to make yet is feasible or not, based on the know-how, means and time available. "That is the goal I still want to achieve," she said.

Working while completing PhD studies

Apart from working at RLS, Domajnko started her PhD studies at the Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering in 2016. "I felt I still don't know everything I'd like to know, that I would like to continue to expand the library of knowledge that I'm working with," Domajnko said.

She notes that the term library is also used in programming. "It's a base of the things that we already know and just take and use when we need them. It's good to have as big a library as possible before broaching a technical problem," Domajnko said in presenting her motives for taking on her PhD studies.

In her PhD thesis, she is dealing with the magnetic hysteresis in ferromagnetic materials used in sensors; ferromagnetic material is material that responds to a magnetic field.

"Unfortunately, this means that a part of the work performed by the torque of the magnetic field to set magnetic domains right into the right state is transformed into internal energy. For us this is an undesired effect, because the energy losses translate into poorer sensor performance. The state that the magnetic field should create in the sensor is only partly achieved."

Her hobbies are sports and music

The young engineer likes to do many things in her spare time, especially sports. Since engineering work is relatively static and requires a lot of sitting, Domajnko thinks it is important to spend your leisure time doing activities that relax you and are good for your health.

The former kayaker is also a whitewater kayak teacher and a ski instructor who likes to surf in the summer. She also expresses her creative energy and innovative ideas through music, playing a piano accordion in the band ViaEntropia.

Female Engineer of the Year 2018

The organisers of the first Slovenian competition for Female Engineer of the Year picked Domajnko, who says she has a dream job, as an inspiration to the young for engineering studies.

The jury highlighted Domajnko's long track record of success since primary school, when she won several golden and silver awards in various competitions. She graduated from high school with honours and won four dean's awards for her achievements at the Ljubljana Faculty of Electric Engineering.

The competition aims to promote female engineers in society. In Europe, only a quarter of girls take up STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies; in Slovenia the a third of STEM students are women.

One major reason why girls do not decide to become engineers is a lack of role models and insufficient discussion about the contribution of engineers in the development of society. The organisers of the competition want to shine a spotlight on female engineers and show how interesting their work is and how they contribute to social progress.

Women's role in science in EU

Zoran Stančič, the head of the European Commission Representation in Slovenia, welcomed the award and stressed that efforts were also being made at the EU level to make women's role in science more visible.

He stressed that successful individuals were role models for youths and were an important factor when youths decide which studies to pursue. "If we want to preserve the quality of living in Europe in the rapidly changing world and stay competitive on the global level, we must encourage youths to pick science studies, natural science and technical studies. It is particularly important to increase the share of girls in these studies," he said.

Encouraging STEM studies at EU level

The EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which will have received more than EUR 80bn in 2014-2020, finances excellence in science, promotes leadership of the European industry and addresses social challenges. It seeks to ensure that jobs in research and development are open and appealing to young candidates, and that the scientific and technical literacy of society improves.

One example of such a project from a Horizon 2020 call for applications aimed at promoting STEM is the special educational platform. The European Commission also supports a pan-European initiative EURAXESS - Researchers in Motion to promote cooperation on different levels, as part of which it promotes the mobility of researchers and their career development.