Women in Science Profiles

Dr. Dunja Mladenic

I work at the "Jozef Stefan" Institute, Slovenia, since 1987 when I started preparing my BSc thesis on machine learning. My work continued with development of systems and applications of machine learning, data mining and knowledge discovery that led to my MSc and PhD. I was at School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, as a visiting researcher in 1996–1997 and in 2000–2001. I have been involved in several European research projects and I co-ordinated a fairly large one with twelve partners. I am the Slovenian representative in the European Commission Enwise STRATA ETAN Expert Group Promoting women scientists from the Central and Eastern European countries and the Baltic States to produce gender equality in science in the wider Europe, co-editor of scientific books on data and web mining, co-author of several research papers and co-organiser of international events from these fields.

To illustrate the content of my work, let me list some of the research problems I have dealt with. One of them was early epidemic outbreak detection based on analyzing different data sources, such as school absences, emergency room medical records, supermarket shopping data and Web queries. Another interesting problem was Web user profiling where we first built models of user’s interests based on accesses to Web pages and used these models to automatically recommend interesting Web pages. I was also involved in analyzing Web news texts and observing profiles of countries, celebrities or companies over a longer period of time. An application from legal practice developed within the framework of a European project was designed to help judges at the beginning of their careers by providing them semantically similar legal cases from the past legal practice. We are also engaged in analyzing scientific co-operation of individuals, organizations and countries on the basis of the past and current research projects. Here we use machine learning and link analysis methods to identify outstanding individuals or groups, successful project consortia and key representatives – the carriers of development within individual research topics. I am proud to say that because of scientific relevance and international recognition of our group, participation in national and international projects has become a very important component of my own research activities.

Today I can say I am glad that I decided for a scientific career, even though I must admit that science simply found and ''seduced'' me. Already as a child I wanted an occupation and career which would be creative and fulfilling. For a long time I was not sure what exactly that was, I only knew that solving mathematical and logic problems was fun. Computer science turned out to be exactly what I was looking for as it requires algorithmic approaches and gives an opportunity for concrete expression through programming. Already during my undergraduate studies I experienced the beauty of creating (machine learning systems) and I worked with some enthusiastic colleagues from the "Jozef Stefan" Institute. I have successfully concluded my studies with an MSc and a PhD in Computer Science which brought me to one of the best universities for computer science, the Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. That experience significantly marked my scientific career as well as my personal life. I can say that everything became more intense – things started happening at a faster pace. Well, all things except my decision for having children that came into play only after I had finished my PhD degree and successfully concluded the co-ordination of a large European research project. Despite relatively good conditions we have in Slovenia for maternity and parental leave (12 months of paid leave), I realized that having a supportive partner and co-workers as well as being a part of an open-minded research community (tolerating small children at scientific events) is of key importance for work-life balance. In my opinion, one way in which the society could help scientists with small children is by offering some logistic and financial support for attending international events and staying abroad together with the youngest family members.

It might sound exaggerated, but for me being a scientist is more a way of life than an occupation.

The article (in Slovene) Creativity and Free Thinking before the Career: A Group Portrait of Nine Women who all holds PhD in ICT, by Jasna Kontler-Salamon, published in Delo, 18.5.2006, presents the exhibition Women with PhDs in Computer and Information Science in Slovenia. Nine women with PhDs in Computer and Information Science, one of them is dr. Dunja Mladenic, reflect on their experience of being a woman in science.

Women in Science Profiles