Barbara Pedretscher: “Use the university as your network of knowledge and exchange!”

Our graduate Barbara Pedretscher studied Technical Mathematics. She completed her compulsory internship at KAI Kompetenzzentrum Automobil- und Industrieelektronik GmbH and was subsequently invited to write her diploma thesis and doctoral dissertation there as well. Today she works in the field of R&D Reliability and Data Science. We chatted with her about the many possibilities afforded by a university education and about spending memorable years at university.

What drew you to the University of Klagenfurt initially?

To be honest, it was first and foremost a financial and highly pragmatic decision, and one that I do not regret from today’s retrospective point of view. As my school years were coming to an end, I knew that I wanted to pursue a technical/scientific degree; mathematics, physics and chemistry held particular appeal for me. While exploring my options for university education, I came to realise that mathematics provides the foundation for describing the laws of nature in terms of physics. This knowledge, combined with the range of courses offered at the University of Klagenfurt, prompted me to choose Technical Mathematics.

Tell us about a memorable experience during your time as a student.

There were many wonderful moments that I like to think back on, which is why narrowing it down to a single experience feels a bit too limiting. During my time as a student, I was able to get to know very many interesting and amazing people, from the lecturers to the students. Some of them have remained friends of mine to this day. One of the things I always remember with pleasure and a little nostalgia are the times we spent together on our assignments from various exercise sheets. Between discussions, we always found time to laugh together, which was very beneficial for our friendship.

If you were to study again, you would …  choose the same degree again. I would change a few things though; for instance, I would take more courses from other disciplines, especially the humanities, which are not strictly necessary for a degree in mathematics. Although I did make partial use of this offer, if I could, I would utilise it even more; even if this meant studying for an extra semester. As a student, you are not always aware (at least not in my perception) of the opportunities to acquire knowledge and broaden your horizons during your studies, or you are too busy complying with a curriculum to think about what else is out there beyond your defined academic terrain.

Were there moments or people during your time as a student that had a lasting impact on you?  

Absolutely! It would go beyond the scope of this blog to mention more than one person, so I would like to talk specifically about Prof. Barbara Kaltenbacher, who supervised both of my theses. In my opinion, she embodies both emancipation and technical expertise at the highest level. As a working mother, she has managed the tricky balancing act of establishing herself in a field that continues to be dominated by men, without sacrificing any of her teaching activities. I am thinking in particular of her willingness to make time for her students. She is a role model unlike any other.

How did your journey at KAI Kompetenzzentrum Automobil- und Industrieelektronik GmbH evolve?

My story at KAI began with the compulsory internship that had to be completed as part of the Master’s degree programme. Having had the opportunity to get a taste of the field of semiconductors and growing increasingly enthusiastic about research work, it was a very fortunate opportunity for me to work on my diploma thesis and subsequent doctoral dissertation following the internship.

Why did you decide to pursue a doctorate? Was it instrumental to your professional development?

Even while I was studying for my Master’s degree, it was clear to me that I wanted to learn a lot more in the field of mathematics, deepen my knowledge in certain areas and immerse myself even more intensively in active research activities. The doctoral thesis provided the opportunity for me to try my hand at researching a topic, to coordinate an independent project and to build up a network in the scientific field. This was a period that was very formative for me and my development.

What are your responsibilities in the area of R&D Reliability and Data Science?

In my current job as a trained mathematician / statistician, I am concerned with recording the reliability of power semiconductor components in quantitative terms, modelling it and predicting it in a valid manner. It’s a very responsible task, as people are in (in-)direct contact with components on a daily basis, and safety is a top priority.

What do you find most fascinating about your job?

The fact that I am constantly learning something new; including, and in particular, from an interdisciplinary point of view.

What still connects you to the university today?

Fond memories and good friends.

What advice would you give to students today?

II would advise students to think outside the box, to visit the library regularly, and to take part in a wide variety of courses of all types. In summary: Make active use of the university as a network of knowledge and exchange and savour the full range on offer.

A few words with Barbara Pedretscher

  • When I think of Klagenfurt, I immediately think of … the city centre with its charming cafés and the Carinthian State Conservatory or what is now the Gustav Mahler Private University of Music.
  • My favourite place at the university was … the library, as a place to gather new thoughts and ideas, and the Café Como, as a place to get together.
  • This is what I do first thing in the morning when I get to the office … I check my e-mails.
  • My degree programme in 3 words: challenging, seminal for my current way of approaching problems and critically questioning issues, intensive.