Back story: Dr Ana Cruz Ruiz, ‘Women can offer new and different perspectives’
Image credit: Sarah Plater Photography
TV presenter Dr Shini Somara talks to Dr Ana Cruz Ruiz, manager of the UK’s Digital Innovation Hubs for Healthcare Robotics, which aims to foster innovation in robotic healthcare products.
Shini Somara: How did you get into robotics engineering?
Dr Ana Cruz Ruiz: To get into robotics engineering, I first studied mechatronics. It was clear then that as a woman in robotic engineering, I was in a minority especially in Latin America. At that time, it was a new degree, and I was the only girl there. Often teachers would ask me if I was lost or in the wrong place. I didn’t say much at the time, but I think this affected my self-confidence and my ability to answer questions or put my ideas forward. There were more girls on my master’s degree in robotics, which I studied in Europe. It was nice to see more women on this course.
These days, there are more girls interested in engineering. I think the problem women face now is that we experience many barriers in progressing through our careers. There is certainly some work to be done in retaining women in STEM fields and promoting them to senior positions.
Personally, what has kept me here in robotics engineering is that I really believe robots will enhance our lives in many different ways and I enjoy my work so much. You have to really like what you do, to not be distracted from your goal.
SS: What makes a good role model?
ACR: Role models can transmit a sense of wonder and excitement for something, which ultimately inspires others to take action.
SS: What are your perspectives on diversity and inclusion?
ACR: If we want technologies to work for a diverse group of people, then a diverse group of people have to be creating and developing them. When we are developing a prosthetic or a specific device for a person with a disability, for example, that amputee has to be included in the process. Women can offer new and different perspectives and that is important for new innovations in general.
SS: How do you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
ACR: That’s a difficult question – I think I’m figuring it out. My career is important and used to be the most important thing. Since then, I have spent a lot of time discerning what other things are important to me. My family is important; helping in Honduras is important, but all these things are difficult to balance. I think it’s a learning experience. I don’t think I have the answer, but it is important for me to prioritise because work can often take over.
SS: What is the best advice you have ever received from a mentor?
ACR: My current boss recently told me to not do 100 per cent all the time, but to do 80 or 70 per cent. This is not at all a suggestion to be lazy, but it’s about not always striving to do things perfectly. Perfectionism is something that girls in engineering usually suffer from and, as a result, they are usually good students, very neat, always in class. But this approach can be very draining. It was liberating when I heard this advice and it’s something that I try and pass onto girls who are interested in engineering and science.
SS: What do you love most about engineering?
ACR: What I love most about engineering and STEM is the feeling of discovery. I experience this very frequently in my career. That moment before and after you figure something out is very exciting, especially when you know it will positively impact others.
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