[Series: Women in Tech] Interview with Olga Christidi-Loumpasefski
8 March 2023
Olga-Orsalia Christidi-Loumpasefski works as a Research Associate in the SpaceR research group. She pursued her doctoral studies at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA, Greece), where she also worked on an ESA project as a Researcher and Technical Project Manager of the CSL’s space robotics team. Her doctoral research focused on dynamics and system identification of Space Robotic Systems. Her current research interest is Active Space Debris Removal.
We sat down with Christidi-Loumpasefski to talk about her path in engineering and ICT, and her views on women in tech and academia.
What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?
I find the term ‘career’ laden with social connotations and assumptions, so I prefer to refer to my professional life as a path or a journey. As a kid, I enjoyed using my hands, imagination, and problem-solving skills, as well as studying mathematics, all of which inspired me to study mechanical engineering. In addition to that, growing up I was also strongly influenced by like-minded male engineers in my family. This gave me the idea that I could be just as strong and independent as they seemed to be by following this path. Moreover, the promising job prospects in tech also factored into my decision, though I now realise that societal beliefs regarding the superiority of certain professions can be limiting.
Although I wish I had made a more genuine choice at seventeen, I keep finding myself in different aspects of my work. I also get to know myself better, shaping my motivations and inspirations daily with more presence and awareness.
What do you work on today?
I work on Active Space Debris Removal (ASDR). Earth orbits have a crucial space debris pollution problem caused by millions of non-functional human-made objects left in space. This opens massive opportunities for R&D on low-cost servicing missions that provide ASDR capabilities. Currently, I am working on a project proposing a CubeSat-based, flexible capturing mechanism for small debris. Moreover, we aim to enable close-to-real-tests of these ASDR systems by employing our high-fidelity Simulator and Hardware-in-the-Loop facility. In addition to ASDR, my research interests lie in the dynamics, control, and system identification of space robotic systems.
What could society do to encourage girls to pursue a career in IT?
More than encouraging girls as a category, I would encourage all of us to raise our children in a gender-neutral way. This involves avoiding gender stereotypes and allowing them to explore their interests and express themselves in a way that feels natural to them, regardless of societal expectations based on gender. This can involve providing them with equal access to a variety of toys and activities such as dolls and STEM development kits, allowing them to choose their clothing, and avoiding language or actions that reinforce traditional gender roles. It’s important to support their curiosity and encourage them to be themselves, rather than fit into a preconceived mold based on their gender, including their professional path.
Who is your role model, and why?
While there are several individuals in my field and beyond whom I admire, I wouldn’t classify them as role models. As Dostoevsky once said, “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s,” and I firmly believe in this philosophy. I strive to be true to myself because there is no universal formula for living; each of us must discover our own path based on our distinct interests and priorities.
What’s a challenge women face in academia?
As a woman in academia, I did not encounter any particular challenges. On the contrary, I always felt included, respected, and treated with equality, accessing the same remarkable opportunities as my male colleagues over the years.
What I find noteworthy, though, is that imposter syndrome was first discovered by analysing the self-conceptions of women in academia. It appears that there is still some internal pressure on women in academia to demonstrate their intelligence and capabilities in the same way as their male colleagues. Several studies have revealed that this psychological framework stems from gender stereotypes, cultural norms, and other factors.
Academics, regardless of gender, may feel pressure to constantly prove themselves, which can hinder their ability to achieve work-life balance. This is especially true since academia often involves pursuing one’s passion on a daily basis. However, the art of living with harmony involves recognising the interconnectedness of all aspects of life and striving to find a state of equilibrium between them. So, it’s essential to also cultivate our genuine and diverse interests, spend time with our loved ones, and always take a few minutes each day alone in silence.