Assistant Research Professor @IMDEA_Software, Spain
Introduce yourself in a few words
Hi there! My name is Thaleia Dimitra Doudali and I am a faculty member at IMDEA Software Institute in Madrid, Spain. Prior to that I received my PhD in Computer Science at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, USA. I grew up in Chalkida, Greece and I completed my undergraduate studies at the school of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NTUA in Athens, Greece. I am passionate about research and coming up with novel ideas that create new directions. I am also actively engaged in volunteer activities at all stages of my academic journey, helping organize student activities, promote Hellenism, increase female representation in computer science and advocate for mental health and work-life balance.
What is the most exciting thing about your work?
The most exciting thing about being a Professor is the freedom to work on cutting edge research topics and create new directions and contribute ideas that can potentially revolutionize the field. In particular, my research lies at the intersection of software systems and machine learning. As computing platforms evolve and new hardware technologies emerge, machine learning helps build more sophisticated software systems that can accelerate the performance and efficiency of the hardware platforms. My work identifies when and where artificial intelligence is necessary to augment the capabilities of software systems that were fine-tuned using human intelligence. Apart from research, the great thing about being a Professor is interacting with students to guide them, and help them to learn, expand their horizons and experiences and become independent researchers and skilled individuals. Finally, engaging with the general research community and contributing to conferences is a great way to collectively shape the research directions of the computing field.
What is your favourite science fact?
How fast the technology is evolving. How the hardware chips become smaller and cheaper and the speed with which new hardware technologies emerge. For instance, a storage device with 1 Terabyte capacity is now much cheaper than just couple years ago. Same with other devices, such as phones, cameras, laptops, they rapidly evolve and include great functionalities for their size. This is a great example of how years of research translate into an actual product and the great things that human intelligence can accomplish. And we now have started to see the effects of artificial intelligence into technology. The future of computing and technology is so exciting!
What inspired you to follow this career path?
Thinking back into my academic journey, this career path came very naturally to me. Since my adolescence I remember always trying to help and advice my friends. I am a social person and I have always volunteered into organizing activities that help out the student communities during my undergraduate and graduate studies. During my PhD I really enjoyed doing research and I am thankful to my advisor for giving me the freedom and flexibility to work on topics that truly excited me. I grew to enjoy giving presentations, guest lectures and enjoyed organizing and participating in mentoring activities and discussion panels. All of these are essentially part of a professorship! And now that I have started my journey as a Professor, I know I have made the right choice!
What is the biggest challenge that you faced in your career so far?
The transition from PhD to professorship. Not so much switching from being advised to being the advisor, but primarily balancing all the different tasks that a professor has to manage, from research to recruiting students, advertising their work, giving talks, and participating in service tasks with the research and university community. In my case the biggest challenge came from moving back to Europe from the United States all by myself. This means readjusting to a new lifestyle, setting up a new home base and trying to make friends all over again, all while trying to manage the multi-tasking nature of a professorship.
What motivates your work?
The wonderful feeling of helping others learn and acquire new skills. Being a professor, means I have an outlet to share my excitement about research as well as advocate for things I am passionate about, such as mental health, female representation and coming up with ways to engage with the community.
Do you have any role models?
I am very thankful to always have had strong female role models in my life. Starting from my mother, Elisavet Lamprinakou, and admiring her superhero skills and how hard she is working to support her family and help everyone around her. In addition, my PhD advisor, Ada Gavrilovska, and how she manages to have an outstanding career with raising a family. I feel very lucky to have such great lifelong mentors, who sometimes believed more in me that I did myself and supported me through hardships.
What kind of advice would you give to your younger self just starting out?
Don’t compare yourself too much with others. Impostor syndrome is hard to deal with and a constant battle. Focus on trying to learn and get inspired from others, but then stick to what excites you and do the activities you enjoy, focusing on improving your skills.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am an advocate for work-life balance. I make sure to create the necessary amount of free time and spend it by going out with friends, travelling, and self-care activities. I enjoy music, concerts and dance fitness classes.
What do you think we can do to close the gender gap and increase female visibility in STEM?
I feel very strongly about and actively try to increase the female representation in leadership roles through my personal contributions. When we talk about the STEM gender gap, we mostly think about how we can convince more girls in school to follow a STEM education at the undergraduate and graduate level. This is the first step, and there is great progress in that with outreach programs. But we need more women to have leadership roles and act as role models, so that the gender gap is closed across all levels of STEM activities. We need more female Professors, CEOs, conference organizers, journal editors and presenters, taking up roles that have influence on how the STEM field is being shaped. This is very challenging because at the age when women can take on such roles, many also want to start raising families and balancing career and life. Thus, we need better support for maternity leave, affordable childcare and equal treatment of women and men at work. As an individual and a female Professor I try my best to increase my own visibility and take upon leadership roles, so that I can inspire younger women to not be afraid and pursue a similar path as mine, accomplishing even more.