Alumna profile: Lisa Lazareck-Asunta

Alumni

Lisa studied for a DPhil in Biomedical Engineering, graduating in 2008. She now works on investigating the impact of research outside academia and applies these expertise in her role as Women in Engineering Chair for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Lisa Lazareck-Asunta is the Impact Development Manager for the Environment Theme at the University of Reading. She looks at the impact of university research outside of academia – be it to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life. 

Lisa is also a 20-year Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – the world’s largest technical professional organisation with more than 419,000 members from 160 countries. Since 2019, Lisa has also been the global Chair of Women in Engineering at the IEEE. Lisa is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion, education and engagement with science and engineering.

We spoke to Lisa about her time at Oxford, her route into engineering and her ideas for improving the balance of women in Engineering.

Tell us a bit about your time here at Oxford

I matriculated in Oxford in 2003 to complete my DPhil in Engineering Science with Professor Lionel Tarassenko.  My thesis focused on the investigation of breathing-disordered sleep quantification using respiratory signals.  I was thrilled to join Lionel’s group, where all our projects were biomedically focussed and strongly rooted in signal processing. 

Life in Oxford was the experience of a lifetime. I was active in the Department (demonstrator, tutor at Jesus College) and especially so in St John’s College – where I was MCR President in 2005, taking regular meetings with our President and Leadership.  This included termly garden perambulations, celebrating our 450th Anniversary and even meeting Prince Charles alongside our incredibly charitable-minded volunteers in College.

How did you first discover engineering?

In my high school in Canada, I was fortunate to have participated in a conference aimed at young girls interested in science and engineering.  My Mother recalls that I came home afterwards and said that “I am going to be an engineer.”  However, it was through my high school Mentoring Program where my interest in engineering (medicine and technology) was truly cemented.  I was paired up with an orthopaedic surgeon and prosthetist, and over the course of several months, observed knee and hip replacements in the operating theatre and watched patients being fitted for new arms with basic myoelectric capabilities.

What do you find most exciting about engineering?

Engineering shapes our lives every day.  We see its benefits everywhere and I truly believe – like the IEEE- that advancing technology is for the benefit of humanity. 

What is involved in your role as IEEE WIE Chair?

I have been an elected and appointed volunteer for the IEEE’s Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) since 2001 and Women In Engineering (WIE) since 2015. As WIE Chair, I manage a core team of 9 leaders and extended committee of 50 volunteers from across the globe, all champions for gender equality in our profession.  I engage with the IEEE Board of Directors and Leadership at least three times a year and am humbled weekly by our active community who – on behalf of IEEE WIE – champion STEM education, networking, mentoring, and leadership to make a difference.  WIE are working on articulating our impact (past, present and future) and my legacy will include a 1-, 3-, and 5-year plan for defining our success. 

What changes would you like to see?

I would like to see us all move beyond gender: an engineer is an engineer.  However, we aren’t there yet.  With my global volunteers, I am learning more and more about the varied cultural challenges that women face, and we all would like to see truly diverse and inclusive leadership, boards, event panels, policies, laws, and more. Personally, I would like to see more non-female champions leading in this arena and supporting systematic change for the better.  Research has shown us that diverse working groups produce better outputs and returns, and that we need more engineers in the future. We (and WIE) cannot make that change alone and welcome our ambassadors.

How can we encourage young female engineers into the field?

Follow your passion.  Push your boundaries.  Find your champion.  Be your own champion.  You can do this.  Your voice matters.  You matter.  You can make a difference.  You are the difference. 

More about Lisa:

Lisa began her exciting new role at the University of Reading, as Impact Development Manager for the Environment Theme in November 2019, having previously spent 6.5 months at the UofR as Impact Associate for Computer Science. Prior to entering the world of Impact, Lisa worked for the Wellcome Trust for 6.5 years, starting in 2008, and spent the majority of her time in Public Engagement.  She worked across the following sectors: Cultural, Education, Science Communication, Broadcast, Games and Film. In her last role at Wellcome, Lisa completed a 6-month secondment to The Crunch Team with a main focus on the evaluation and legacy of the £6-million initiative. Prior to this, Lisa was on a 9-month secondment to the Research Careers Team, Science Division where she concentrated on Fellowship schemes and their eligibility criteria.

It was through her connections with IEEE that she was auditioned to host a 2-hour television program on electricity and the human body.  In 2005, “Zapped” aired worldwide on the Discovery Channel.  Lisa continues to appear on television: in 2018, 2019 and 2020, she contributed to Discovery's "Strange Evidence" (series 1 and 2) and "NASA's Unexplained Files" series.

Protecting against brain injuries

Brain Mechanics and Trauma; Computational Mechanics