A curious mind, an interest in technology and a hunger for opportunity were what it took for Jana Skirnewskaja to begin her journey in engineering. Despite leaving school with the intention to pursue a career in international relations, Jana went on to study mechanical engineering and gather a wealth of experience in industry, before arriving at Cambridge to begin her PhD. Here, she reveals more about her research, as part of our Women in Engineering series.
I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to keep looking to open doors and continue on your path, even if it is something new and unknown. With passion and perseverance, anything is possible.Jana Skirnewskaja
Fresh from leaving school in Germany following her International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, Jana chose to extend her knowledge in STEM subjects because she was driven by a desire to create a solution that could one day save people’s lives.
Jana applied to the Technical University of Braunschweig and secured a place studying mechanical engineering with a focus on automotive technology. During this time, she went to work as a research assistant at a supplier for Volkswagen, in Wolfsburg, focusing on driver assistance systems.
“I had to balance work and my university studies, but when I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, I had both theoretical and practical knowledge in my field,” said Jana. “This was crucial and gave me an advantage for employment and for future studies, as I was able to see how things work and I quickly developed ideas on how to solve problems by witnessing challenges in the industry. I developed a growth mindset.”
After graduation, Jana was awarded a scholarship from the Foundation of German Business to study an MSc (Master of Science) in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. It was at this point that she applied and was accepted onto the MRes (Master of Research) programme within the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems, a joint centre with the University of Cambridge and UCL (University College London).
“This transition was challenging, but necessary for my aim of combining electronics and computer science to bring these research fields into the car environment and develop augmented reality holographic head-up displays,” she said.
Life at Cambridge
Following her MRes at UCL focusing on holographic displays for cars, Jana became a member of the CDT in Connected Electronic and Photonic Systems and began her PhD at Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Tim Wilkinson. She currently collaborates with the University of Oxford.
“My PhD research focuses on holographic augmented reality head-up displays for safety applications in the transportation sector. Current head-up displays project information for the driver in a small area of the windshield, but this distracts the driver from the road and can lead to traffic accidents.
"My research results show that projecting holographic road objects as augmented reality into the driver’s eyes, prevents the driver from shifting their gaze from the road to the windshield. This can improve road safety. The reconstructed holographic images will be aligned with the real-life objects on the road and act as an addition to the reality to alert the driver without distractions.”
Women – be the leaders of tomorrow
“Women in engineering should tear down perceived barriers to become the leaders of tomorrow,” said Jana. “I encourage women to pursue a career in engineering, women who dream of creating technical solutions for a positive change. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to keep looking to open doors and continue on your path, even if it is something new and unknown. With passion and perseverance, anything is possible.”
Moving forward, Jana wishes to continue her research in the transportation sector and inspire the next generation. In the future, she hopes to establish a network of passionate researchers who will work together on the common goal of using holography to enable augmented reality head-up displays.
“There are many advantages to studying engineering – it is a fairly transferrable degree which allows students and graduates to create innovative solutions for global problems. STEM subjects are recognised internationally and I was able to travel and do several exchanges during my studies, such as the Erasmus programme in France while I was an undergraduate, while conducting research for my Bachelor’s thesis at Harvard University and during my graduate degree in the UK. Never stop learning!”