11 February 2023 marks the United Nation’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which aims to address the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Women are still underrepresented in these disciplines in education and the workforce. Gender equality is vital for economic development, tackling climate change, and contributing to the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development. At Cura Terrae, our mission is to Take Care of The Earth, and we have many inspirational and influential women working in areas that feed into some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – namely clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, and life on land.
One such woman is Dr Sonja Ostojin (BSc (Hons) MSc PhD), Environmental Monitoring Solutions’ Head of Innovation.
Sonja was born and raised in Serbia. As a child, she was inspired by her father, a mechanical engineer who became the technical director of one of the country’s largest paper manufacturers. With a natural interest in maths and physics, Sonja admired her dad’s ability to fix everything and she quickly developed a fascination with fixing and making things herself. She was also inspired by reading about Marie Curie, her fantastic work ethic, and her brilliant discoveries. As she learned more about STEM subjects, she gravitated towards the stories and laws that make the world work.
Sonja studied her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Novi Sad in the Faculty of Technical Science. She studied mechanical engineering and automatic control systems for five years at undergraduate level, and spent the next seven years studying her master’s in automatic control systems while teaching and conducting research. Since the age of 11 she always wanted to study for her PhD – to know as much as possible about a subject – and she aspired to study overseas and travel.
Sonja left Novi Sad and upon moving to England, she saw an advert for a PhD candidate to study in the Department of Civil & Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield. The academics were looking for someone with prior knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, fuzzy logic and water systems, all of which Sonja specialised in during her studies in Serbia. She was interviewed immediately and offered the position the next day. After four years of her PhD studies (the use of AI in sewer pump stations to optimise energy costs), Sonja continued her research as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership student with Anglian Water, where she designed and implemented AI controllers.
Sonja spent some time doing hydraulic modelling for RPS, before being brought into EMS in 2014, first as R&D Manager and moving up to Head of Innovation, to guide and develop Centaur and other Smart Wastewater projects and products, and lead EMS’s innovation strategies.
Sonja’s academic studies at the University of Novi Sad, the University of Sheffield, and her subsequent flourishing career at EMS have made a huge contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring clean water and sanitation. Her area of expertise means that by working on innovative projects and products, she can contribute to action to ensure our wastewater infrastructure is safe, effective, reliable, and more sustainable.
Dr Ostojin was one of only five women out of approximately 300 students to graduate from her undergraduate degree cohort in Serbia. She’s now at the forefront of her profession and regularly works with the University of Sheffield. She is hoping that she can help to inspire the next generation of girls and women to study STEM subjects. When Sonja was a young girl, she was inspired to try and find the story behind things, and she has taken that desire to find the beauty in understanding how the world works and contribute to making the world a better place for future generations.