Institute of Communications and Connected Systems


Women in Science Day: Alejandra Beghelli

10 February 2021

In support of International Day of Women and Girls in Science we chatted to ICCS member Dr Alejandra Beghelli about her chosen career path.

Picture of Alenadra with an insert of an LED Icon lit up like a neon light.

Author: Ruth Milne, Transnet Communications Manager

Women in Science | Optical Networks | Engineering

In support of International Day of Women and Girls in Science we chatted to ICCS member Dr Alejandra Beghelli about her chosen career path.

Alejandra is a Lecturer in Optical Communications and Networks and member of the Optical Networks Group. Her current research topics include research allocation in optical networks, reinforcement learning applied to optical networking and creativity in engineering.

Why did you choose a career in science?

While in high school I had an amazing maths teacher. She was a woman with a PhD in maths and physics who did not hesitate for a moment to challenge us. I fell in love with that wonderful feeling you get when you solve a problem and so, the next natural step for me was getting into an engineering programme. 

How and why did you choose engineering as your field?

I was just 16 years old when I had to decide the engineering speciality I wanted to pursue. Without much information on the different areas, I choose electronic engineering for a very childish reason: I loved the way LEDs looked when switched on! Later, I went for computer networks because they had the perfect mix of electronic engineering and computer science (and network switches had LEDs on them too!).

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part is not knowing whether the idea you’ve got to solve a problem is going to work or not. And sometimes you might spend months testing an idea to realise it's not working at all! Accepting that an idea is not very good is hard because it threatens your self-confidence. In a world where people mostly report about their successes, facing a failure makes you feel like you’re the only one making mistakes. Luckily, with experience comes a good number of successful stories that bring consolation when things do not turn out as expected.

What’s the biggest obstacle professionally that you’ve had to overcome?

In my case, this was not associated to gender, but to poverty and lack of education in terms of critical thinking. I grew up in a poor and uneducated family during a time when the country (Chile) was under a dictatorship that erased any attempt of critical thinking at school and universities. Because of that, I missed out on key aspects of scientific education that other people had. Later on, changing my main research line and keeping on publishing despite a significant lack of resources were also big obstacles that I had to face.

How do you think we can achieve better gender equality in science? 

We now know that when girls are about 7 years old, they lose interest in scientific endeavours. Mostly, due to the messages they receive from society. So, from the very early years parents and teachers must make sure that children know that they can pursue whatever interests they like; that disciplines are not gendered, and the fact that one discipline has a high imbalance today is not to say that things cannot change in the future.

What’s your advice for girls or young women thinking about a career in science?

Go for it! If you are interested in a career in science and you enjoy solving problems, you will have a good time here. Don't let anyone discourage you with their actions or words. You deserve to follow your interests and there are many of us here ready to help you along the way. Reach for us if you need that little push that gets you through.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is implemented by UNESCO and UN Women, and works in collaboration with worldwide governmental, institutional and societal partners, to promote women and girls in science. The purpose of the day is to encourage full and equal access to participation in science for women and girls. Find out more in the link below.


International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Institute of Communications and Connected Systems
Optical Networks Group
Dr Alejandra Beghelli