Dr Eva Cheng understands that there are all kinds of barriers women face when setting their sights on a career in engineering and IT; for her, it was largely cultural.
“I’m Australian-born but my family is Chinese, from Hong Kong,” she explains. “Pursuing engineering studies — particularly to PhD level — was a slightly unusual choice because of perceived gender roles. Though it’s actually now well-respected within the family circle that I’m teaching at a university, it took years of conversations around why I wanted to do this and what a career path like this looks like.”
Eva joined UTS in late 2017, taking up a split role that fuses her multi-faceted passions and expertise. Fifty per cent of her role is as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Data Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering and IT where she is teaching and furthering her research in multimedia signal processing, harnessing digital signals such as speech, audio, images and video for a wide array of applications. She is currently working with her PhD student on collaborative research with biologists to track biological objects — in this case, zebrafish, which are used in all kinds of scientific experiments.
“The challenge is that the fish all look the same, and it’s difficult to figure out which fish is moving in which direction and when,” says Eva. “We’re adapting computer vision algorithms used to track people to respond to the homogeneity of the zebrafish and save biologists countless hours of manual tracking and data analysis. This is relatively unique, and we hope that the approach can then be generalised to other living organisms.”
A further 30 per cent of her time is dedicated to the innovative Women in Engineering and IT (WiEIT) program, of which she is Deputy Director. The program has over 30 years’ history in conducting school outreach and mentoring programs, enjoying significant success in addressing the gender gap in the sector. Eva is part of the team working to take WiEIT’s reach and impact even further.
“We’re having conversations with students and teachers to really understand the barriers and what we can grow and improve, how we can strengthen and evaluate our impact,” she says.
“If technology is going to be ubiquitous, the people working with and developing it should represent all sectors of the community. Working with girls from early on to excite them about the possibilities of technology and create pathways is key to breaking down those barriers.”
If technology is going to be ubiquitous, the people working with and developing it should represent all sectors of the community. Working with girls from early on to excite them about the possibilities of technology and create pathways is key to breaking down those barriers.
With extensive experience in internationalisation of teaching and research programs, working to extend the faculty’s excellence in that area is also part of her remit. Here, she hopes to continue her personal commitment to social justice through developing pathways for students to engage with projects through organisations such as Engineers Without Borders and incorporate humanitarian engineering concepts into everyday practice.
Eva says that UTS’s commitment to diversity and social justice was a significant drawcard for her, and has thus far been impressed with the university’s clear efforts to address gender inequity and create an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.
“UTS has a well-defined social justice framework and dedicated social justice and equity and diversity units; they take it seriously from top down, bottom up” she says. “I no longer have to have conversations around why we do this, but how.”
Photographer: Andy Roberts