Have you ever met a person able to look into the future? Randa Natras, former OeAD scholarship holder, looks into the future from a completely scientific point of view, forecasting space weather via Artificial Intelligence. In our Alumni Talk on 11th May 2021 we had the opportunity to get to know a person who looks into the future from a completely scientific point of view: Our former scholarship holder Randa Natras shared her experiences as an engineer of Geodesy and a woman in technology.
About 43 participants from 26 different countries met via Zoom to enjoy being together with other scholarship holders in Austria in a virtual way and learn more about Randa’s experiences and work. Randa talked about her studies of Geodesy, explained how space weather affecting the Global Positioning System (GPS) can be predicted using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and reflected on her research stay in Vienna funded by an Ernst Mach Grant – worldwide.
Since childhood Randa was interested in technology. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in Geodesy at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, research stays in Norwayand Germany followed. She obtained her master’s in Geodesy in Sarajevo and worked for the Municipality in her home country. During this time, she was awarded the Young Scientists Travel Award by the International Association of Geodesy to present her master’s thesis research at an important international conference on geodesy in Japan. This experience gave her additional motivation for scientific research and opened up the possibility for her to network with renowned scientists, including her current PhD supervisor. During her research stay at the Vienna University of Technology from November 2017 to July 2018 she developed her PhD proposal, established collaboration with scientists in Vienna and participated in conferences that enabled her to enter the global scientific community.
She stresses that this stay helped her to become an open-minded person due to her intercultural experience where she met scholars from all over the world. She even improved her German when attending a German course at the university. During a research stay funded by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, she deepened her knowledge in her field of research and decided to start her PhD studies on developing a model to forecast the effects of space weather on the earth’s ionosphere using AI-trained computers, learning patterns and rules from data to make predictions.
Randa developed the first regional ionosphere model for Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide precise GPS corrections and is now developing a global model for ionospheric space weather forecasting based on AI. In 2017 she was among the "40 Under 40, 2017: Remarkable Geospatial Professionals" in “xyHt” (USA) geospatial magazine. In 2018 Randa was awarded a scholarship to participate in the European Forum Alpbach (EFA). Currently she is DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholar and takes part in the PhD programme at the Faculty of Aerospace and Geodesy of the Technical University of Munich, Germany.
Her most important recommendation for a successful stay abroad, from a professional and personal viewpoint, is to be open and not hesitate to ask for help. Healthy routines, sports, meditation and a good work/life balance helped her to maintain her balance and to cope with stressful situations that she came across.
Randa's presentation was followed by a short speech by Gerhard Volz, the head of the department for International Cooperation in Higher Education, who stressed the importance of international collaboration and taking the sometimes-scary steps of moving or studying in another country. Randa Natras is an impressive example for students/scholars interested in seminal areas of science and technology.
A discussion moderated by Katharina Engel from the OeAD events4scholars team followed and Randa was asked to explain some details of her research in more depth and the participants got motivated by Randa’s curiosity in her field.
The Alumni Talks have been organised at regular intervals since 2011 and former OeAD scholarship holders are invited to present and discuss their personal and professional experiences during and after their stays in Austria. Randa’s talk is already the second online Alumni Talk since the Covid-19 pandemic started. So far, 26 events were organised, with speakers from 18 different countries!