Women in Science Profiles
Dr. Tanja Urbancic
As a child and also later in secondary school I never imagined that one day I would be working in computer science. I was drawn to different areas, from music and literature to natural sciences. Nevertheless, I noticed quite early how much it means to me that I can learn, that I can be creative and that I can come to new conclusions with my approach, thinking and work. I decided to study theoretical mathematics and I enjoyed the "brain gymnastics" as well as the exploration of the immense power and special beauty of mathematics. After I had finished my BSc degree, I got the opportunity to join a group working in the field of artificial intelligence at the "Jožef Stefan" Institute. I decided for postgraduate studies in computer science and I received an MSc degree and in 1994 also a PhD degree. At that time and also a few years afterwards my research work was mostly involved with modeling human skills. When we gain skills in carrying out a certain activity, this activity in time passes over to the subconscious level and this is why it is hard to describe it and explain it in words. An example of such activity is the manual operation of a dynamic system, such as a crane. My colleagues and I have developed procedures which use recordings of a person operating such system and with the help of a computer extract the individual steps this person uses in her or his work, although she or he may not even be aware of it. Individual working steps can show certain characteristics as well as the differences between individual workers. Later on we combined the generation of the obtained working steps with optimization. In this way we got automatic operation which in style was similar to the recorded operator, but at the same time its efficiency according to the selected criterion was better. Lately my work is primarily concentrated on finding new ways of co-operation between groups and organizations enabled by modern information technologies. With computerized procedures we want to support this kind of co-operation with the appropriate knowledge management which enables the knowledge hidden in the heads of individuals or in masses of data to be used for solving actual problems – as efficiently as possible. I am particularly drawn to projects from the areas of education and health care.
Publications of findings in international scientific magazines and books of acknowledged foreign publishing houses have given me the feeling of satisfaction, especially when I noticed that our work is quoted and acknowledged also by others. At the same time I have been missing more efficient ways of knowledge transfer from where it is generated to those to whom it might be useful, but they often do not even know about it. That is why in 1996 a group of my colleagues and I established the Center for Knowledge Transfer in Information Technologies. With the enthusiasm of true pioneers we have prepared more than 70 different specialized courses and workshops where doctors, mechanical engineers, ecologists and many other experts were introduced to the recently developed methods, tools from computer research laboratories, and most of all, examples of their use for the purpose of solving difficult problems from different areas of expertise. Organizational experience from that period is very useful in running the School of Engineering and Management at the University of Nova Gorica which is one of my responsibilities since 1999. My present work is very satisfying. It demands constant upgrading of knowledge which to me has always been a challenge and I have always tried to do my best to accept it. A great help are also meetings with lecturers, colleagues and friends to whom I am grateful that they are prepared to share their knowledge, thoughts and experiences with me.
Some periods in my professional career were very hard, especially the time when I was preparing my PhD thesis and I already had two small children. Despite all that I learnt many things that are still very helpful. I try to use the limited time in the best possible way and I try to do things that I really enjoy and in which I see some sense as in this case the energy just keeps flowing in and I almost do not feel tired. Nevertheless, enough rest, entertainment and outdoor recreation are still a must since otherwise the strains gradually take their toll. I also try to understand the needs and efforts of other people like my family have always understood me for which I am very grateful to them.