Interview Series

Women in STEM with Cecilia Metra

Professor at the University of Bologna (Italy), 2019 IEEE Computer Society President
IEEE Computer Society
Published 02/16/2021
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The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Women in STEM, with Cecilia Metra, Professor, and Coordinator of the Masters in Electronic Engineering, and the Deputy-President of the Engineering School at the University of Bologna, Italy.

We are thrilled to bring you our discussion on her career growth, overcoming challenges, and how volunteering with IEEE Computer Society has given her a global perspective to computing.

What is your current technical field and what made you choose that particular area of interest?

Cecilia Metra  I am working in the field of high reliability, availability, safety and security (in a word dependability) electronic systems’ design, ranging from fault and aging modelling, to transistor level approaches, up to coding (error detecting and correcting) techniques, till system level strategies. When I started working in this field, exactly 30 years ago, dependability was a constraint mainly only for space and avionics. I had always been fascinated by those kind of applications, which I was somehow hoping could have brought some answers to the many questions I was asking myself. Therefore, even though I liked the technical topic in itself, its application has been what made me passionate at the beginning. Then, I witnessed the increasing relevance that dependability started playing in more and more application fields, basically wherever deeply scaled electronics was adopted. I therefore started appreciating also the high variability of this research field, whose challenges were continuously changing, almost every time technology node was scaled down, thus making it a continuously evolving technical field, which is an aspect that I still appreciate today. To then arrive to today’s strong requirements in terms of dependability of highly autonomous systems (e.g., service robots, autonomous vehicles, etc.) that, with their huge potentials to make our world, life and the impact on environment better, can not do anything else than increase even more my passion in this technical field.

What’s been your greatest challenge and your greatest reward in your professional career?

Cecilia Metra Within my professional career, I devoted a significant amount of time and passion also to my volunteer activity at the IEEE Computer Society level. The greatest challenge I faced in my career has probably been to run for IEEE Computer Society Presidential election, and to prove to IEEE Computer Society members that they could rely on me, and believe in me. It comes by itself that my greatest reward has been to have been elected by the members and see, at the end my presidential term, all the activities that, thanks to the strong collaboration of all IEEE constituencies (all other leaders, staff and members), we have been able to accomplish, according to what planned and far beyond it. It required lots of efforts and renounces, also for my family and students, but we have been able to accomplish what promised and much more, and we pursued it with dedication and passion, in the strong belief that it could have benefitted all members and the Society itself.

What have you found rewarding about being an IEEE and/or Computer Society member and/or volunteer?

Cecilia Metra What I found, and still find, most rewarding about being an active IEEE and Computer Society volunteer is the diverse and inclusive cooperation with IEEE Computer Society members from throughout the globe for a common goal, that I could synthetize as the diffusion and evolution of our technical fields for the benefit of humanity. The IEEE is really an international association, and serving it as a volunteer enables to go beyond the individual, national perspective, and see our technical fields from a global and collaborative point of view. This enables a significant growth both professional and personal. What I found most amazing is how many similarities in motivation and goals you can find while talking with colleagues within the IEEE, wherever they come from, wherever they grew up, wherever they graduated, etc. It is as if sharing the IEEE mission and interest in the same technical field serves as an enabler to bring together people with the same beliefs and attitudes, so that in IEEE you find not only inspirers, mentors and colleagues, that will foster your professional growth, but also fantastic friends, that will accompany you throughout your life.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a young person just starting out in their career?

Cecilia Metra My advice to any young person who is starting her/his career is to follow her/his passion and not be afraid to dream. I believe that passion, and the dedication that it brings through, is of primary importance for one’s own professional growth. Not being afraid to dream is also important. There are no limits to what you can achieve, through work and dedication.

What's your best advice for women who have become discontent with their careers yet are afraid or reluctant to make a change?

Cecilia Metra Changes are always difficult, especially for sensitive persons. I have been lucky to select the job I liked since the beginning of my career. I was dreaming to do research in University, and I decided to try to make my dreams come true. Going through this, and all difficulties it involved, has not been easy at all, but my passion for research has always sustained me and has enabled me to go through this till now. As I said, I have been lucky because I selected this since the beginning of my career. Making changes is not easy, especially once you have already devoted time to what you believed was the right path for you. But the moment someone realizes her choices are not the right ones, I believe that opting for a change is a must, not an option, this is something one dues to oneself, to society. Of course with the consciousness that, unfortunately, there is no golden path.

About Cecilia Metra:


Cecilia Metra is a full professor, the Coordinator of the Masters in Electronic Engineering, and the Deputy-President of the Engineering School at the University of Bologna, Italy, where she has worked since 1991, and from which she received a PhD in electronic engineering and computer science. In 2002, she was visiting faculty consultant for Intel Corporation.

She is IEEE Director-Elect/Division V Delegate-Elect 2021 (Director/Division V Delegate 2022, 2023). She was the 2019 President of the IEEE Computer Society (CS).
She is the Chair of the ICT working Group of the IEEE European Public Policy Committee (2021), and a member of the IEEE Young Professionals Committee (2021), the IEEE European Public Policy Committee (2020-present), the IEEE Smart Village Governing Board (2020-present), the Systems Council Advisory Committee (2020-present), the IEEE Conferences Committee (2021-2022). She was a member of the IEEE CS Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion (2020) and the IEEE TAB/PSPB Products and Services Committee (2020). She is the Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of the IEEE Computer Society Special technical Community on “Reliable, Safe, Secure and Time Deterministic Intelligent Systems”, and the Co-Chair of the IEEE Digital Reality Initiative Project on the same topic.

She was the Editor in Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing (2018, 2020), the Editor in Chief of Computing Now (2013-2016) and the Associate Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Computers (2007-2012). She contributed to numerous IEEE international conferences/symposia/workshops as general/program chair/co-chair (14 times), vice-general/program chair/co-chair (6 times), topic/track chair (34 times), and technical program committee member (90+ times). She has published extensively (190+ papers on peer reviewed Journals and Conference Proceedings) on design for test and reliability of integrated circuits/systems, fault tolerance, secure communication protocols, photovoltaic systems, emerging technologies. Her research has received public and private funding (e.g., from the EU, the Italian MISE and MIUR Ministries, and from companies such as Intel Corporation, STMicroelectronics, Alstom Transport, etc.) at national and international levels. She is an IEEE Fellow, IEEE CS Golden Core Member, and a member of the IEEE Honor Society IEEE-HKN. She has received two Meritorious Service Awards and six Certificates of Appreciation from the IEEE CS.


Read more interviews from computing thought leaders:
Barbara Liskov | Bhavani Thuraisingham | Timothy M. Pinkston


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