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Spotlight Series: Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, University of Bristol

Dimitra Simeonidou

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Dive into the inspiring journey of Dimitra Simeonidou, a trailblazer in the telecoms sector, as she shares insights from her remarkable career and leadership roles.

Dimitra Simeonidou is UKTIN Lead for UK Research Capability, and Director of the Smart Internet Lab and Co-Director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute, University of Bristol.

Dimitra has been working in the telecoms sector for over 30 years, with her research focusing on the fields of high performance networks, programmable networks, wireless-optical convergence and smart city infrastructures.

As Director of the Smart Internet Lab – one of the most prominent research labs in Europe – she is responsible for designing the next generation of network architectures enabling mobile communications, cloud services and global internet connectivity. Additionally, as Co-Director of Bristol Digital Futures Institute, her research is transforming the way we create new digital technologies for inclusive, prosperous and sustainable societies, driving social-technical innovation for a better digital future.

Dimitra is currently representing the University of Bristol as part of the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) to help accelerate the UK telecoms R&D ecosystem, and support research translation and commercialisation to scale up telecoms innovation.

How did you land your current role? Was it planned?

    “I don’t think, at any stage of my life, I purposely sat down and planned my career. If anything, I’ve always been driven by my interest and curiosity rather than having a defined career plan. Having developed a love for STEM subjects at an early age, I started off by studying physics. It wasn’t until I got to higher education that I developed an interest in the field of telecommunications – which is where I am today.”

    What are the key roles in your field of work, and why did you choose your current expertise?

      I’ve always been proud to call myself a telecoms engineer – arguably one of the most important roles in the telecoms sector. It’s an immensely innovative and impactful profession that is driving visible transformation in our everyday lives, connecting people and businesses on a global scale.

      I’ve personally seen this throughout my 30 years in the sector, and am able to identify elements of my own research that enabled the emergence of the internet and the rise and growth of mobile communications. From playing a key part in the introduction of Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) in long-haul fibre networks that increased global network capacity overnight, to pioneering communications and computational service convergence in the early 2000s – and building the foundations of what we know today as the cloud.

      Did you (or do you) have a role model in tech or business in general?

        I do! My love for STEM and belief that it can change the world actually started at an early age when I first read the biography of Polish-born physicist and chemist, Marie Curie. It was her story that inspired me to pursue a career in academic research and become a university professor – and led me to the realisation that a career as a woman in STEM is both possible and rewarding. For that reason, I strongly believe that anyone looking to pursue a career across science, tech, engineering and maths should have a mentor or role model they can aspire to.

        What are you most proud of in your career, so far?

          During my time in industry, I worked on the design of the first optical transatlantic submarine network (TAT12), connecting the UK with the US and forming the backbone of what we call the global internet today. That was a huge achievement, alongside my work on a second system called SEAMEWE3 – the longest optical submarine telecommunications cable in the world, linking South-East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe.

          However, my proudest career moment has to be the PhD students I have mentored. It’s fulfilling to have nurtured these young peoples’ passion, watching them complete their research and go on to hold key positions in businesses and academia, contributing to the international technical community.

          What does an average work day look like for you?

            For a telecoms engineering researcher, no two days are the same. I have the privilege of going to work every single day and imagining what the future of connectivity will look like. It’s not just about technology, but also innovating responsibly for our digital futures – addressing key questions concerning energy consumption and the environment, inclusive and fair connectivity, security, privacy and trust.

            My day-to-day involves providing strategic research direction and thought leadership to my teams of over 300 academics and researchers, mentoring early career colleagues, and communicating to our rich ecosystem of partners. As my role spans across both national and international, the work ranges from delivering multiple plenary and keynote talks to promote our research and report outcomes, to advising government and regulators, reporting to our research funders, and supporting impact generation. It’s certainly varied and exciting!

            Are there any specific skills or traits that you notice companies look for when you’re searching for roles in your field?

            Employers, now more than ever, want ‘T-shaped engineers’. They appreciate the benefits of in-depth knowledge and expertise in a specific field but are now also realising that system-level knowledge of telecoms and its uses is increasingly important to the role.

            Have you ever faced insecurities and anxieties during your career, and how did you overcome them?

              Being a woman in engineering can be challenging. For many of us, having children and young families can cause difficulties in trying to balance academic work and family life, requiring commitment and hard work on both fronts. That being said, I have been extremely lucky. As an early career academic, having childcare on campus eased any struggles I would have faced given the hours I was devoting to my research and teaching. I think more companies and industries should follow suit to attract and keep talented women in the workforce if they choose to start a family.

              Entering the world of work can be daunting. Do you have any words of advice for anyone feeling overwhelmed?

                A career in academia is not easy. It requires hard work and great commitment over a long period of time. This is a significant challenge that many young academics face, and one I quickly learnt at the onset of my career. I’d encourage anyone considering this path to always look at long term career aspirations instead of expecting instant return or immediate success. Most research proposals, for example, have less than a ten percent success rate for being funded – but don’t let that deter you! Remain positive, celebrate the small wins along the way, and the outcome will be extremely rewarding.

                What advice would you give other women wanting to reach their career goals in technology?

                  Technology is a fast moving industry because the demand for innovation is endless. Although telecoms may still be a very male dominated sector, don’t let that discourage you! In recent years, there have been more and more women developing successful and highly visible careers in this industry. These women should be sought out as mentors, and have the potential to nurture and encourage a pipeline of future female talent.

                  We need more women entering the telecoms sector to help challenge the perception of what an engineer looks like. We don’t just operate in a world filled with dark labs, lab coats and overalls. It’s time we change the narrative and show the world that we solve real problems that touch every aspect of our daily lives, benefitting society and the economy.

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