Silvia Santini

1978

Professor at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Lugano

"As a researcher, I help to develop new technologies and systems that have the potential to change our society."

My career path

I am a professor of computer science at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in Lugano. I teach and do research, mainly in the fields of low-power wireless communication and mobile computing.

My passion. There are many things I love about my profession. As a teacher, I enjoy engaging with young, motivated students and passing my passion and interests in technology and science onto them. As a researcher, I help to develop new technologies and systems that have the potential to change our society. Overall, I have intellectual freedom and flexibility in organizing my work, and that’s hard to find elsewhere. This flexibility is also extremely helpful when it comes to balancing a family with two young children and a demanding job.

My career path. I have been very lucky throughout my career to receive the right offer at the right time. Nonetheless, getting to the point where I am now has been hard at times : I lived away from my partner and then husband for eight years, and I haven’t always managed to strike the right work-life balance.

Many people have supported me throughout my career, and I am very thankful to all of them. If I had to mention just two, they would be my husband, who has always supported and encouraged me, and my PhD advisor, who was the first to make me understand the importance of looking at all available options, and to have the courage to choose the one that felt right instead of the one that looked best on paper.

I have been very lucky to come across several people who have advised me and given me critical feedback on several occasions. I’m also grateful to the institutions I’ve worked for, including ETH Zurich, Technische Universität Darmstadt (TU), TU Dresden, and currently USI Lugano. The welcoming, open-minded environments I found in these places really helped me to develop both professionally and personally.

A downside or obstacle ? The flexibility I enjoy means that my working hours blend into the whole day and the whole week (including weekends), and my office can be anywhere. While this is a great opportunity, it also has a downside : work-related issues are never really out of the picture, and taking time off from work is often difficult.

As an electrical engineer by training, and now a professor in computer science, I am indeed often the only female in the room. There are still too few women that choose to go into engineering or computer science. It’s hard to know exactly why this is, but one issue is surely the lack of positive role models.

I’m especially Proud when I see my former students succeed in their endeavours is what makes me most proud of my work. I especially like seeing my PhD students grow both personally and professionally, and helping them realize their goals is extremely rewarding. I am also very proud of my achievements in research : I contributed to making battery-powered devices able to communicate wirelessly using very little energy, and I am building mobile personal assistants that will allow people to improve their overall well-being and productivity. Last but not least, I am very proud to have received several awards for my teaching, which motivates me to put even more into the preparation and execution of my lectures.

The Proust Questionnaire

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Other interests beyond work

Besides being interested in technology in general, I am an avid reader – historical novels and biographies are among my favourite genres.

People who inspire you

Marie Curie, for her brilliance in science and her perseverance in life. In addition, I’ve watched The Last Lecture by computer science professor Randy Pausch several times. In his lecture, he talks about the importance of following one’s childhood dreams – and of helping others realize their own.

A book & a film

A Fortune-Teller Told Me (Tiziano Terzani). It’s a marvellous account of the author’s travels and experience as a reporter in the Far East and a touching story about personal growth and change, and Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni).

One or more role models

I admire all educators who do their job with dedication and passion and who help raise a new generation of competent and responsible citizens.

An object

Not sure, a notebook maybe (a paper one, though).

A colour

Ochre

A dream

Travelling to space one day.