As part of the CALIPER project, we are conducting a series of interviews with inspirational women who work in STEM research and innovation. We explore what motivated them to choose their career, their experiences and the barriers that they faced.
About Ivona Černičková
Ivona Černičková holds the position of Associate Professor at the Institute of Materials Science, Faculty of Materials Science and Technology, Slovak University of Technology. Her primary research focuses on quasicrystalline materials and lead-free solders, exploring microstructure formation in soldered joints.
With 30 publications in WOS and Scopus, including 21 current-contents articles, Ivona has garnered 113 citations, resulting in an H-index of 6. She has acted as both principal investigator and researcher on several VEGA projects, such as, “Analysis of microstructure formation and its influence on selected properties of lead-free solders,” and, “Investigation of structure, oxidation resistance, and tribomechanical properties of nanocomposite multilayer transition element nitrides based coatings Key”.
During her Ph.D. studies, Ivona received several accolades, including “Student of the year 2011,” “Best dissertation thesis 2012,” and the “Rector’s award 2012.” In 2015, she earned recognition for the best poster at the C-MAC 2015 conference in Grenoble.
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Please tell us about your professional background and research interests.
“I am a materials engineer, which means that I work in two areas; either the development of new materials, or the modification of existing ones. The latter is in cooperation with companies in the case of damaged or broken parts. I find out the reason why it happened. I secure new materials or look for the cause and eliminate the problem.
In my scientific activity, I deal with quasi-crystals and quasi-crystalline approximants. They are special materials that have tenfold oscimetries, and special structures. The next area is solders, and our project deals with lead-free solders. They still do not have the same properties as lead solders and therefore their development continues. The third direction is the plastics we are surrounded by, and therefore it is important to focus on bioplastics. We also cooperate with companies when they have problems with plastic products and plastic matrices.”
What was the main impulse that motivated you to be interested in this field of science?
“My interest in this area started in childhood. I enjoyed mathematics, physics, and chemistry, and technical subjects in general. I graduated from high school with a focus on pursuing technology, and in university, we could choose a specialisation after two years of getting to know the subject more closely. I was intrigued by the mystery of materials- how everything works, how atoms are arranged- and I decided to go in this direction.”
During your participation in conferences, do you generally encounter a greater representation of women or men?
“At conferences, I generally meet a greater representation of men. But I have to say that I feel respect from men who approach me professionally. And conferences are a great opportunity to meet interesting people- for example, a Nobel prize winner.”
Tell us about your team – what is the representation of women and men in it? How do you cooperate with your research team?
“I haven’t exactly calculated the representation of men and women in my wider team, but overall I feel that it is equally balanced. I am the only woman on the scientific team, but I must say that my colleagues have a professional attitude and respect towards me.”
As part of your teaching activities, you have also worked with primary and secondary school students. How do these younger students perceive the world of science?
“We try to bring the world of science closer to primary and secondary school students by engaging them in demonstrations. One such example is showing them interesting experimental trials. We have good responses to these- students engage and ask questions. We do simple demonstrations so that they can understand them, and we can see that they clearly enjoy it.”
Based on the European Commission’s 2021 survey on Gender in Research and Innovation, it appears that although the share of women and men completing higher education is more or less equal, the gender gap in research and innovation-related jobs persists. How would you support female interest in science today?
“I would support the interest in science with interesting lectures- even complex science can be presented simply and in an engaging way and also by writing interesting articles. I like to present science to people in such a way that it reveals the secrets that are part of life, and the secrets of nature.”
How do you perceive your career growth in connection with your personal life and family?
“I have two children and I was on maternity leave for eight years. Upon my return, the men who had started alongside me already had their career underway and had progressed further than me. But I knew that when the children were older, my career would be able to proceed. Now my children are 21 and 19, and I can focus on my career. I don’t feel like I lost anything, rather the opposite- that in every phase of my life, everything has happened as it was supposed to.”
What would you say to current female students who are deciding on their professional path as scientists?
“I would like to convey that scientific work is fun- you explore new things, and there’s the chance to solve problems. There is always new stimuli. When you enjoy doing something, and when you are happy in your career, you find happiness in life. And that is very important.”
What would you say to younger girls who are deciding on a school and their professional focus?
“Sometimes girls can encounter prejudices that they are not good at technology, and that boys are better suited to pursuing technology as a career. If a girl likes mathematics, physics, or any technical subjects, she should not be discouraged and should not be guided by prejudices, but by her feelings and believe in herself.”
To find out more, please visit the CALIPER Project website.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 873134