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Maria De Lauretis, Luleå University of Technology  Photo: Linda Alfredsson
Maria De Lauretis. Photo: Linda Alfredsson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Enjoyed both research and culture

Published: 18 December 2018

Maria De Lauretis just finished her PhD at EISLAB and Luleå University of Technology. – Regular meeting activities and social events helped building a positive working environment.

The name of Maria De Lauretis' doctoral thesis is Multiconductor transmission lines wideband modeling: A delay-rational Green’s-function-based method. The research topic is simulation of conducted disturbances in variable-frequency drives (VFDs), which are commonly used in energy production plants. A variable-frequency drive is composed of an electric motor and the electronic equipment, and a power cable that connects them. The conducted disturbances are related to the noise current that is channeled via conductive paths in the systems, such as the cabling.

– We focused our attention on the power cable and provided an accurate mathematical model that can be used in the simulation of conducted disturbances and, more generally, of the electromagnetic problems related to the VFD. The research challenge was the formulation of the mathematical model for cables, studied as a multiconductor transmission line.

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a PhD student?

– The time, the writing, and teaching activities. As a PhD you are fully responsible for your time and how you plan your activities. You need to have clear goals but, most importantly, you need to know yourself and your limits. You only have 8 hours a day, and you cannot waste any of them. The writing of articles was also a big challenge. It is hard to put your work in words, but even more, to put in words that readers can actually understand! For me, the course in academic writing was extremely helpful. The teaching activities were also quite challenging. If you do not know something or if you did not fully understand a concept, the students will spot you in a second! You are expected to know everything, and it can be quite stressful. However, teaching has been of extreme value for me; it is rewarding when students can follow your explanation while you increase your confidence on that topic.

What is the most important thing you have learned? 

– The value of collaboration. You cannot know everything, and you need to collaborate with other researchers to reach a common goal. I believe this point is under-estimated, research is normally thought to be a really “individualistic” job. However, most of the things I learned came from my collaboration with other people, both in the lab and in the office for the formulation of mathematical concepts.

What is it like to be a PhD student at Luleå University of Technology and EISLAB?

– I believe that Luleå University of Technolgy is a wonderful place to learn because it is “student-centered.” There is a lot of effort to improve the quality of education, as I could also experience during my PhD studies. My supervisors gave me trust and all the tools I needed for my research. It is also extremely easy to collaborate with people outside your department. My colleagues at both the department and EISLAB have always been friendly and helpful. I believe that the regular meeting activities and social events helped building a positive working environment.

You are neither from Luleå or Sweden, what has that experience been like – to move all the way up north, ending up in a different culture and a different climate?

– I am from the south of Italy where, besides (maybe) two months per year, it is always summer. If I look back, I need to laugh at myself about my naive knowledge about “the north.” The first day I arrived at the airport in Luleå, my supervisor Jonas picked me up, and I genuinely asked him “Is it true that here you go shopping with cross-country skis?”; his (very Swedish) answer was “Well, you can do this, but maybe people will look strange at you…”. The strong climate fascinated me more than it scared me. The culture difference was the most challenging part. In the most unexpected ways: for example, in the beginning, I had a hard time to understand when Swedish people were asking me a question, not because I did not understand the words, but because the body language and the intonation they used was so different. In Italian, when you ask a question, you do not change the order of the words as you do in Germanic languages, and only the intonation of the voice (which goes up) tells you that is a question. But here, the intonation of the voice for the questions goes down. I always needed to think “wait, iis it a question or a statement?!” I personally like the Swedish culture a lot: I like the calmness of the people as much as I like the silence on the frozen Baltic sea at -20 (at -21 and below, I stay home!). In general, I think that this experience abroad enriched me and opened my mind.

You have reached the end of your PhD journey, how does that feel?

– Nervous and happy! I think it is time to change and to take new challenges, so I am already looking for the next step!

Do you have any good advice for someone who are just in the beginning of their PhD journey?

– Plan your time and your goals, always keep regular meetings with your supervisors, collaborate with other people. Do not drink too much coffee; it is not healthy :p