As the first blog post on WINspiration, we would like to start strong and hear from Vanya Valindria. She is truly an inspirational Indonesian woman who is currently doing a PhD in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London while raising two children with her husband. She proudly calls herself an Artificial Intelligcence (AI) / Machine Learning (ML) researcher and unpredictable musician.
Please tell us more about your research in biomedical image analysis.
My main focus in research is on AI-machine learning on medical images. Nowadays, AI is everywhere and sounds like a buzz-word in industry. During my PhD, I learn how to utilise AI for automatically analysing the large scale medical image data. With machine learning algorithms, computers can help recognise multiple organs/bones or detect tumor/lesion from MRI/CT images, which is a tedious task for a physician if he/she has to manually annotate scans from thousands of patients. Thus, we hope it will assist the doctor in making a better and more reliable diagnosis.
What is your background and how did you end up in this field?
My background since undergraduate is still in the same field: medical image analysis. Then, I continued my master's focusing on Computer Vision and Robotics in Erasmus Mundus program (3 countries in 2 years). But, it is always aligned in the same field for the past 13 years: analysing images using computer.
Do you enjoy your research? What has been your biggest achievement?
I enjoy my research because I know that it is what I like to do. I love this field since undergraduate, and I keep doing it. I don’t think I have a big achievement yet because as in research, there will always be future works. But the thing that I’m proud of is: I can contribute to healthcare through technology. An example: when a hospital actually used our assistive diagnosis tool in the clinical-cardiology department.
How could your research be applied to contribute directly or indirectly to Indonesia?
As the utilisation of AI in radiology has not yet been applied widely in Indonesia, in the meantime I think it is more to indirect contribution, such as to provide consultancy for AI application in healthcare or to give lectures.
If you could do anything after completing your PhD, what would you like to do?
If anything, I’d like to make a kid album. But, for professional career, after completing my study I will explore opportunities to work around Data Science or AI/ML in industry or academic.
How do you like living in the UK? How does it compare with other countries you have lived in?
I love living in the UK, especially in London because it is very multicultural and it feels that you don’t live abroad because you can find everything here: it is like a miniature of the world! Everyone is welcomed here.
Other countries I have lived (Scotland, Bourgogne-France, Catalunya-Spain, The Netherlands) have their very own unique cultures as I lived in more rural areas. So I have more chance to relax and to explore the local culture there. On the other hand, London is lively and very busy, the life-pace is more like in Jakarta.
How do you balance your research work with your love for music?
Not too balance I think. I only do music in my spare time to express my creativity, my feeling, my desire to sing, also some ideas in my mind. If I cannot get good progress or get stuck in work, I can also pour it down to songs (or strange music composition).
I would also not be able to make music if I don’t love computer, as all of the my music composition and home-recording were done solely with my laptop (and audio gadgets) with my amateur audio-engineering skills (most of my original songs can be listened here: https://vanya2v.bandcamp.com, or videos on YouTube channel: Vanya2V).
As a wife and a mother of two, how do you prioritise your research and hobby around your family?
As a mom, family is obviously my number one priority among those aforementioned things.
My everyday routine (before the second born): taking him to school and going to the lab straight away, working/learning, and picking him up from school at 3 PM. If there are courses or workshops or talks I need to attend outside the hours, I bring him to classes. I enjoy that flexible working hours for being a PhD-mom. Then I cook for the family dinner, do other household things, and accompany them to learn/do home-learning from school.
My music hobby also includes kids a lot, because when you reach home you cannot do anything without involving (read: getting distraction from) kids. The only me-time is when I’m in the lab or when they sleep. It means, back then I used to wake up after midnight, did the work when the research papers have to be finished (with kids on the lap) or composed my musical arrangement/recording (when I was motivated to do so). Moms know how to pump out their productive time.
Looking back at your life journey, what has been the biggest lesson learned, and what do you still find challenging?
It may not be a single lesson but everyday we learn many things: from the mistakes, from anyone else, from the surrounding, etc. The more I grow, the more I can smile for failures. Just, take it easy, as it is a part of the process. Looking back I have applied for almost 200 PhD applications (and scholarships) for 3 years before I got the current PhD position. It was apple-to-apple for job applications; painful. Perhaps, it is not a failure, it is just a way for you to learn and learn again. Just follow the process, be patient, and you will be led to reach the right place at the right time.
I still find challenging when it comes to managing family, especially when you are alone, miles-and-miles away from your big Indonesian family. Sometimes, it feels very lonely and like a never ending emotional journey.
What is your #1 advice for everyone who is reading this article?
As a woman, sometimes we do overthink when we decide for a big leap for ourselves. But if you want it and you are sure about the benefits/pros, just do it! Women are mostly multi-taskers, so don’t be afraid to live with multiple roles. Do what you can do now, however small you think it is (relax, nobody expect you to be a wonder-woman), as our time is kinda limited (by all of those responsibilities). Just take a chance lies in front of you, as far as/as long as you enjoy it...
Thank you Vanya for sharing your inspiring story and advice with WIN Career Network!