Role model: Margarita Chli

Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned. This month we sat together with Margarita Chli, assistant professor at ETH Zurich, leading a small team of researchers, the Vision for Robotics Lab. 

Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us a bit about your background and where you’re from! 

I was born in Greece and grew up in Cyprus, where I spent all my school years. My parents, now retired, were both Mathematics school teachers, so from a young age I learned to appreciate the logic in Maths, study hard and set high goals for myself. 

How did you become interested in computer science?

My sister had already been pursuing Computer Science studies in the UK, so she was a key influence when deciding what to study. So at 17, I joined the University of Cambridge in the UK to study Information and Computing Engineering. This was a big shock as suddenly, I had to compete with students, who were also used to being top of their class! So this was a very maturing and eye-opening experience that triggered a process of re-learning how to learn, and made me appreciate the value of a good balance in life for the first time (i.e. a balance that includes enough sleep, socializing, work and hobbies). 

How did you go on to pursue your PhD?

A motivating final-year project triggered my interest into further study in Computer Vision and Robotics, so I was lucky enough to be given a chance to pursue a PhD in this area at Imperial College London. This was a very creative and educational time for me, having the change to work under a very supportive supervisor, whose passion for good and honest research was contagious and motivated me to work harder. 

How did you end up at the ETH of Zurich?

Following a conference trip to Zurich during my PhD, I was impressed with the beauty of the place and with ETH Zurich having a great reputation in my field, it was my first choice for a postdoctoral post following the completion of my PhD. Fast-forward a few years and a lecturer’s post at the University of Edinburgh later, I am now an assistant professor at ETH Zurich, leading a small team of researchers, the Vision for Robotics Lab. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the Robotics Lab?

In brief, we aim to develop the visual perception and awareness of robots that will enable them to navigate autonomously as individuals, but then also collaborate in a team to perform common tasks together.

What valuable advice did you get from your parents?

I could fill pages for this answer as without their unreserved support and kindness, and the nurturing environment they created for me and my sister, I would never have been able to have such an enjoyable journey in life. So, here’s my attempt to boil it down to the most basic advice: aim high and work hard for it, but never compromise your values.

How did you become interested in tech?

Good question, but difficult to answer as there was definitely more than one trigger for my interest in tech. The conscious sources of inspiration that come to mind right now are certainly my father’s commitment to recreating physics experiments at home to show me that I should always try to find a reasonable explanation to my questions, my mother’s contagious passion for a clear methodology, my sister’s promise of Computer Science studies opening up a whole world of creative possibilities, a series of lucky encounters with tech-savvy and tech-passionate people, and of course a lot of luck all along, making my journey towards tech first of all possible and quite importantly, continuously enjoyable.

What advice would you give other women in tech?

The same advice that I would give to men in tech: be brilliant, be honest and work hard. Good tech, is gender-free.

Thank you very much Margarita!

 

Photo Credit: Mathilde Agius, Das Magazin

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