** The transcription of this interview is powered by AmberScript.
At AmberScript, we celebrate women. Here is some sharing from our Head Scientist, Cristina.
Laura: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, like where are you from and what keeps you busy during the day?
Cristina: I was born in Guayaquil, the second most populous city in Ecuador. There I started my career as a computer engineer. I've been in Europe for almost 10 years now. I first went to Italy for a master program on Natural Language Processing, and then I extended my stay for doctoral studies on Speech Processing, which is basically what still keeps me busy these days. I am currently the Head Scientist here at AmberScript, and I work on the technology behind speech to text.
Laura: Will you describe yourself as introvert ⬄ extrovert, spontaneous ⬄ well-planned?
Cristina: Introvert or extrovert, a bit hard to say. I am somewhere in the middle I guess. About spontaneous or well-planned - I like plans, but for sure there are moments in which spontaneity is the way to go.
Laura: If you could describe yourself as an animal, which one would it be?
Cristina: I can't help thinking about our family dog. I remember it as an animal of friendly nature, sensitive to the environment and the people around, an excellent tracker, and fierce when it targeted at something.
Laura: Flashback to when you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Cristina: I wanted to be a teacher. Education is a two way learning process - it’s not only the students who would learn. For a brief period I had the opportunity of being a lecturer, it was a very enriching experience for me professionally and personally.
Laura: Now we know you’re holding a PhD degree, what has inspired you to become a speech scientist?
Cristina: I should say that that wasn’t the original plan. I left my country to pursue graduate studies on Human Computer Interaction, which was my topic of interest back then. This got intertwined with Human Language Processing, thanks to the master program I got admitted to. And from there, human language in general, not only speech, has become my main professional interest.
Laura: What are the major milestones in your life so far?
Cristina: I am grateful to many events in my life, because they have redefined who I am. Having found a loving and supportive life partner, and having a child, are for sure part of these events. Earning a PhD degree abroad as well. The journey to pursue that degree was exciting. There was never a dull moment - constantly exploring new ideas, having discussions that spark new thoughts, gathering every little piece of knowledge from a broad range of sources, and making decisions. It’s like mapping out a puzzle, but there’s no guarantee we can make it. From time to time, I felt lonely and frustrated by the uncertainty. To overcome those low moments, I had to fight a bit and move on. I never want to let down the people who believe in me. I don’t want to let myself down either. And most importantly, I wanted to tell my daughter when she grows up, that we did it together. She joined me for the last part of my PhD journey.
Living independently, away from home has also been a important. It has not been easy but as a reward, I have grown so much, thanks to the experience of working with all the amazing people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.
Laura: As a female scientist, what are the challenges you’re facing?
Cristina: All scientists face challenges in the problems they tackle. On top of that, unfortunately, female scientists still have to deal with the challenges of trying to fit into the male-dominated space, the stereotypes, the underrepresentation, motherhood and life-balance. As a mother and a scientist in an area mainly dominated by men, I have also experienced these challenges myself. Since the school days, it seems that women are less visible or even ignored in the crowd of men. To make ourselves visible or heard, we need to put in doubled or even tripled effort. I feel grateful to have other strong women in my life who have given me support and guidance so that I don’t get discouraged. Now I am lucky to be in a country that advocates for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, and to be part of a respectful team. This unfortunately may not be the case everywhere else. I do expect to see more women and men changing this situation in the near future.
Laura: Do you have any expectations on your daughter? For example, to become a female scientist as well, or it’s totally up to her to decide what she wants to be?
Cristina: She's still a little girl. She is free to choose whatever she finds fulfilling for her. I hope she follows the paths that match her personal values and make her happy.
Laura: Career-wise, is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
Cristina: After moving from academia to a startup world, it took me a while to understand how work is done in this environment. When doing academic research, we address very specific problems and we work hard to come up with a solution for it. This helps to deepen our knowledge on a narrow area. However, the goals are quite different in a company environment. We need to get our hands dirty - not only on the scientific problems but also on operation-related issues in order to develop solutions. For that purpose, we have to address them in very creative and fast manners. I wish I had more experience in a company environment earlier.
Laura: Who do you look up to?
Cristina: My parents. They are very hard working professionals, and amazing persons. They have devoted every single moment they spend with my siblings and me, to nurture us with strong human values. They were our role models to respect others, to have the courage to overcome the adversities of life, and to work hard for what we want to achieve. They are the kind of person I aspire to become.
Read another interview here - powered by AmberScript as well - about Peter-Paul, the founder and get to know more about his startup life!