Women in STEM – Julia Nitsch

The number of women in STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is still significantly low. According to a study provided by Statista, only 30% of almost 200,000 freshman students in the STEM fields at German universities in 2019/2020, were female [1]. In this article, one of the reasons for this complex issue will be highlighted. Furthermore, Julia Nitsch, one of our algorithm developers at Ibeo, who is a prime example of female competence in the STEM subjects will be introduced to you.

Taking a glance at the lists of great scientific geniuses reveals one prominent detail: The list is dominated by men. Oftentimes, Marie Curie can still be found, but beyond that the work of women in the STEM subjects isn’t mentioned or valued. The reasons for the lack of female icons are, on the one hand, that these lists were compiled by male committees and, on the other, that women were systematically prevented from acquiring knowledge and participating in these subjects for thousands of years. Despite such adversities, there are many great examples of the work of female scientists and their contribution to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Significant personalities can already be found in ancient times, such as Hypatia of Alexandria, who lived around 400 AD [2]. She taught math and astronomy and was a respected citizen in the city of Alexandria. Ada Countess of Lovelace became an icon of early computer science by writing one of the first programs for calculating Bernoulli numbers in 1834. The program was developed for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Machine, one of the first computers ever, which was never built, though, and existed only on paper [3]. In recent history, precisely in 2018, Donna Strickland was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 55 years. A scientist in the field of lasers, she developed a method to split light into short, extremely high-energy pulses without damaging the amplifier cells [4].

Undoubtedly the important female scientists exist, yet their work and accomplishments are not advertised as prominently as the work of their male colleagues. Following the results of a study by Microsoft, missing visibility of female scientists is one of the major problems for the lack of female STEM students. In a survey of girls and young women across Europe, a clear correlation between the existence of role models and girls' interest in STEM subjects was found. If young girls have a role model in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the chance that they will choose a career path in one of those fields grows by 50%. Furthermore, 46.1% of those surveyed would like to see more female role models in STEM subjects [6].

Donna Strickland, 2018 ©Bengt Nyman [5]. 

To make a modest contribution to more female role models in STEM subjects, Julia Nitsch will be introduced to you now. Ms. Nitsch has been with Ibeo for 5 years now and was one of the first employees on the topic of object perception based on data from our Real Solid-State-LiDAR-Sensor ibeoNEXT. Currently, her field of activity at Ibeo includes developing Machine Learning models to improve the perception capabilities of autonomous cars. She also appears regularly as a speaker in Ibeo's webinar series, where she gives presentations on machine learning algorithms and the future of autonomous driving.

  • Besides her job at Ibeo, Ms. Nitsch is involved in two networks for women in leadership and management positions, the Nushu network [7] and the Panda network [8]. The aim of these networks is to connect women from different professions and companies to get into contact, support each other and to initiate joint projects.
  • Furthermore, she is doing voluntary work at the Hacker School, which is a non-profit project that aims to teach programming to children [9]. Ms. Nitsch organizes Machine Learning, as well as Python courses for them. Essentially, the project is aimed at children of all genders. Once a month, however, a special event named GIRLS Hacker School takes place, which focuses on bringing topics such as IT and coding closer to young girls and women [10].
  • Recently Ms. Nitsch wrote her doctoral thesis in cooperation with Ibeo and ETH Zürich.

In the following, you can find out more about Ms. Nitsch, how she found her access to the STEM subjects, became aware of Ibeo and what inspired her to help children in the Hacker School.

Julia Nitsch.

What was one of the main reasons for you to embark on a career in software development and artificial intelligence?

When I went to school, I was able to participate in RoboCupJunior events and so I came in touch with autonomous robots and programming very early on. These competitions fascinated me so much that I really wanted to work in the field of robotics and so one thing led to another.

How did you hear about Ibeo? What made you decide to apply to Ibeo?

I was doing my Master’s at TU Graz (Austria) as my university held a Summer School on the subject of intelligent vehicles. At the event, Ulrich Lages (Note by ed.: CEO of Ibeo Automotive) gave a keynote speech. I got into a conversation with Mr. Lages and learned a lot about Ibeo. A week after the Summer School, I was on a plane to Hamburg for an interview and up to this day I'm still in the far north of Germany.

Your main responsibilities at Ibeo revolve around Machine Learning. What does a typical working day for you look like?

I don't think there is something like a typical working day. It ranges from the preparation of data sets and the training of models to testing the models in our vehicles. With the AI infrastructure in particular, we are developing new concepts that we have to test quickly and in small steps. The concept phase meets coordination work paired with a bit of resource poker.

What is your doctoral thesis about? How did the collaboration with Ibeo help you in writing your thesis?

My doctoral thesis is about the reliable classification of road users and traffic infrastructure with different types of sensors. Thanks to Ibeo, I was able to make industry references, which helped to better understand the current problems in the economy and to facilitate the transfer of scientific approaches into practice.

5. What inspired you to become part of the Nushu Network and the Panda Network?

When I started at Ibeo, there were only a few women working in system development (if I remember correctly, we were only two). So, I was looking for opportunities to exchange ideas with other working women. While doing so, I stumbled across the Nushu women's network, which was founded in Hamburg at that time. Due to the location in Hamburg, initially the members were mainly women from marketing and trade. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon a Panda event for the automotive sector and I liked it so much that I also became a member there.

The significant achievements of female experts in the STEM subjects have been held back and kept quiet for long enough. Ibeo advocates a stronger appreciation of female competence. Ms. Nitsch's valuable work on the ibeoNEXT-sensor is not an isolated case. Many other female employees at Ibeo do their part every day to make autonomous driving a reality.

[1] Rudnicka, J. (2020).  MINT Studienanfänger an deutschen Hochschulen bis 2019/2020. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/28346/umfrage/anzahl-der-mint-studienanfaenger/.

[2] Lorenzen, D. (2018). Hypatia, die erste Astronomin. https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/unbekannte-forscherin-aus-dem-4-jahrhundert-hypatia-die.732.de.html?dram:article_id=430221.

[3] Eric Kim, E. & Alexandra Toole, B. (1999). Ada und der erste Computerhttps://www.spektrum.de/magazin/portraet-ada-lovelace/825569.

[4] Gast, R. (2018). Physiker auf der Spur von >>Star Trek<<https://www.spektrum.de/news/nobelpreis-in-physik-fuer-revolution-in-der-lasertechnik/1595276.

[5] Nyman, B. (2018). Donna Strickland EM1B5760. https://flickr.com/photos/97469566@N00/46183560632.

[6] Richter, I. (2018). Studienzahlen zeigen: Mädchen brauchen Vorbilder in MINT-Berufen. https://news.microsoft.com/de-de/mint-role-models/.

[7] Nushu Netzwerk. https://www.teamnushu.de/.

[8] Panda Netzwerk. https://we-are-panda.com/netzwerk/.

[9] Hacker School. https://hacker-school.de/.

[10] GIRLS Hacker School. https://hacker-school.de/projekte/girls-hacker-school/.    

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