Melanie Schranz: A woman’s journey into the realm of technology and to her dream job

Our graduate Melanie Schranz couldn’t get enough of the exciting research topics at the Department of Networked and Embedded Systems. As one of the first eight students on the Information and Communications Engineering degree programme, she went straight on to pursue a doctorate after completing her diploma thesis. Together, we look back at an exciting past and talk about the latest research topics at Lakeside Labs.

What drew you to the University of Klagenfurt initially?
I completed my Matura at the HBLA in St. Jakob im Rosenthal and gave birth to my son a year before that. I wanted to study something that had a future and was invited to spend a day at the Carinthian University of Applied Sciences as part of the “Women in Technology” event. I enjoyed that so much that I started studying Network Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences. Then a few things coincided and I was made aware of the new Information and Communications Engineering degree programme at the University of Klagenfurt. The degree enabled me to pursue my areas of interest in computer science and electrical engineering, spend more time with my child and work part-time at the same time.

What did you like most about the University of Klagenfurt?
The degree programme was brand new at the time. There were eight of us in the first semester. This meant that we had a close circle of people with whom we could exchange ideas, and the supervision situation was advantageous as it encouraged direct communication with the professors. There was a powerful start-up spirit that swept everyone along.

Tell us about a memorable experience during your time as a student.
In my second semester, a job was advertised at my department and I was looking for a part-time job to support myself. I didn’t really think I had a chance of getting the job, but Professor Rinner encouraged me to apply. This marked the start of my academic career and also of my continuing collaboration with Professor Rinner. After my diploma thesis, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave the university and decided to pursue a doctorate. Once again, Mr Rinner acted as my supervisor. This allowed me to delve deeper into the subject matter and to get involved in teaching.

If you were to study again, you would … study the same again. If I had complete freedom to choose my schedule, I would study Mathematics on top. Mathematics was certainly not neglected in my studies, but I would still like to go further, to consolidate my knowledge of the methodology, the concepts and my overall mathematical understanding.

Were there moments or people during your time as a student that had a lasting impact on you?
My son has shaped my life. He changed my life in such a positive way, without him I would never have entertained the idea of taking up a technical degree. Together with Professor Elmenreich, we once programmed Lego robots using Java. I was allowed to take one home and try it out with my son. I was also able to publish my first scientific publication in collaboration with Professor Elmenreich. He is great at motivating his students. Also, Professor Rinner always displays so much enthusiasm for the subject matter and its teaching through his manner. That inspires me.

How did your path progress from your academic studies to the present day?
After completing my doctorate, I wanted to enter the business world and explore new avenues. So I joined uppercut as an innovation manager. There, I learned to think in a completely different way and to be mindful of the value of my time. Once, when I needed support with a funding application, there was a scientific publication on my colleague’s desk. I was really drawn to the subject, but I didn’t have the time to read it, and that occupied me for a long time. Then, one day, my mentor Günther Wellenzohn called me and told me about a vacancy at Lakeside Labs that sounded like a good fit for me. I applied and have been working here as a senior researcher ever since. I also teach at the Department of Networked and Embedded Systems. I deliver two courses that are important for students who are just starting their studies and for understanding information technology.

You focus on swarm intelligence engineering for cyber-physical systems of all kinds. For a layperson, what does this mean?
More and more technical components are being linked to each other (e.g. in smart mobility, autonomous driving). These systems have to function properly, but central control is no longer possible. To function as a team, they have to organise themselves. This behaviour is inspired by nature. Birds, for example, do not have central rules but rather they share a common global behaviour, they relinquish control and discover a global behaviour for the system as a whole. Here, we work on projects in the field of Robotics. For example, we examine how drones and underwater robots can work together to inspect ships. We are currently working on a project that aims to destroy swarms of drones with hostile intent or force them to change course.

What do you find most fascinating about your job?
The variety and the opportunity to be part of the entire project cycle. From the effort of establishing a consortium, to the implementation of new systems and simulations, to scientific publications and the opportunity to share the knowledge gained with the outside world, for example at the Long Night of Research.

What advice would you give to today’s students?
Don’t underestimate the value of networking with each other and talking to professors about their projects. Personal connections are always important, not least in one’s professional life. Quite often discussions happen away from the office or after the end of the working day and new ideas for publications pop up. Make sure to look left and right, your time at university is precious and far too short.

A few words with Melanie Schranz

When I think of Klagenfurt, I immediately think of … Lake Wörthersee. Holidays on your doorstep.

My favourite place at the university was … the library. I love the smell of books.

This is what I do first thing in the morning when I get to the office … say hello to everyone and get myself some coffee. I consciously avoid reading emails, and instead I get some substantive work done.

Your degree programme in 3 words: future-oriented, inspiring, too short