Oana Andrei

Oana Andrei

Dr Oana Andrei is currently a Lecturer in the School of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow, UK, where she previously held a position as a Postdoctoral researcher. She earned her PhD in 2008 from the University of Lorraine, France, conducting her research at INRIA Nancy – Grand Est. Her research primarily focuses on the use of formal methods for modelling complex systems as abstract mathematical entities, enabling a rigorous analysis of their properties. In addition to her work in formal methods, she is actively involved in Computing Education research, focusing on learning, teaching, and scholarship related to the computer science curriculum, algorithmic thinking, and widening access to higher education in Computer Science and Software Engineering. She has taught courses on formal methods and algorithms and has supervised numerous student projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Recently, she assumed the role of Deputy Director of the Graduate Apprenticeship in Software Engineering.

What was your first career aspiration as a child?

The first career aspiration I vividly remember having (and talking about it when asked in the classroom) comes from around the age of 9 or 10. I wanted to become a scientist, specifically to tackle the problem of the ozone hole. My understanding of what a scientist did was quite vague, inspired largely by an article I read in a newspaper. This article, though I can’t recall its specifics, painted a picture of scientists as heroes of the Earth, battling against environmental threats (see also the Captain Planet cartoon series). It sparked a deep interest in science and the environment, setting me on a path of curiosity and learning. 

Interestingly, this early dream did steer me towards the sciences, albeit through a slightly different path than I initially imagined. I became a computing scientist, with a focus on formal methods research. My work now involves researching and teaching about ensuring that complex systems are safe and reliable. This journey from an ambitious child inspired by environmental issues to a computing science professional showcases the evolution of my interests and the core motivation that has remained constant: solving critical problems and contributing to the betterment of our world.

The aspiration to become a scientist, in the broadest sense, has been realized, though not in the way my younger self might have expected. It taught me the importance of curiosity, informed engagement, rigorous analysis of a problem, and dedication. These are qualities I’ve carried through my career as computing scientist.

What would you tell your teenage self?

If I could offer advice to my teenage self, I’d tell her not to worry about what her peers think, as they’re all too preoccupied with their limitations and mistakes. I’d emphasize that where you’re coming from is not a barrier to success; rather, it’s a starting point for your unique journey. Instead of viewing the achievements of others as a yardstick for competition, see them as sources of inspiration for what’s possible. It’s important to remember that healthy competition can be motivating, but the most meaningful competitor is yourself. Strive to surpass your own achievements and set new personal bests, not to outdo others but to realize your full potential. Always remember, your journey is about becoming the best version of yourself, not about being better than someone else. 

What has been the biggest challenge in your life, work or otherwise (you choose)?

The biggest challenge I faced was during my search for a permanent academic position, a time that also involved juggling long work hours and raising a young child. Striving to meet my professional goals while comparing myself to others left me drained and eventually led to burnout. This period forced me to re-evaluate my priorities and how I approached my well-being and work-life balance.

Recovering from this low point was a gradual process of learning to prioritize what truly matters – my health, and family, and finding fulfilment in my work rather than just achievements. This experience taught me the importance of self-care and setting realistic expectations for myself.

The lessons I’ve learned from this challenge have made me more resilient and brought a healthier perspective to my career and personal life. It’s reshaped how I approach challenges, emphasizing well-being and balance as much as professional success.

What is your superpower? What superpower would you like to have?

My superpower is the grounding love and support I receive from my family. It gives me strength and perspective, enabling me to face challenges with resilience and maintain balance in my life and career.

As a lifelong Star Trek fan (I only watched the Star Wars movies last year when my son got into them! I know, right?), the superpower I’d love to have is teleportation. The idea of instantly being anywhere in the world not only appeals to my sense of adventure but also represents an incredible efficiency boost in life and work. Imagine the ability to attend meetings in different countries within minutes, or simply be there for important family events regardless of where I am; the possibilities are endless. On a more altruistic note, I’d also like the power to spread kindness in the world. Kindness has an immense ripple effect, capable of transforming lives and communities. 

Who has been a big/biggest inspiration in your life (doesn’t need to be career-focused)?

The biggest inspiration in my life has been my father. His journey is one of relentless hard work and dedication to lifelong learning. Remarkably, he resumed his high school education when I began school and entered university one year later after I started my own university journey (different subject tough). Throughout his career, he achieved extraordinary outcomes, always striving for more and never settling for mediocrity. What truly inspires me, beyond his professional achievements, is his ability to navigate the career landscape with a clear priority on family and well-being. He has always approached his responsibilities with a full commitment, never opting for half measures. His dedication to doing things correctly, his drive for continuous improvement, and his balance of career ambition with family values have profoundly shaped my own life and career philosophy.

What attracted you to a career in computing/tech?

My attraction to a career in computing and tech began in childhood with a strong affinity for mathematics and an early exposure to electronics, thanks to my older brother’s interests. This interest led me to pursue a degree in the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics, University of Bucharest, Romania, where I specialized in informatics/computer science from my second year. Early on, I was captivated by computational thinking, even before this terminology was established and I learned about it. My fascination deepened in my second year at Uni with the discovery of the algebraic foundations of programming languages, semantics, and computational models. A year later, I had the opportunity to attend the public PhD viva of my formal languages course tutor, which gave me a glimpse into the world of research in theoretical computer science. This revelation solidified my passion and set the course for my academic and research career.

Embracing an academic path allowed me to delve deeper into the field’s foundations and share this knowledge with future generations, nurturing their understanding of computing science. The seamless blend of theoretical concepts and their practical applications in computing has always intrigued me, making an academic career in this area a natural and fulfilling choice. I am deeply committed to supporting students throughout their university journey.  Beyond imparting academic knowledge, I’ve providing pastoral care as advisor of studies, helping students navigate the challenges of university life, and encouraging them to achieve their fullest academic potential. This holistic approach to education – focusing on both academic success and personal well-being – has been a fundamental part of my recent role as lecturer in the School of Computing Science and a source of great fulfilment.

What is your favourite pastime?

It’s challenging to pick just one favourite pastime. Whether it’s playing games with my son, embarking on outdoor adventures with my son and my husband, delving into books across genres like sci-fi, romance, and self-help, practicing taekwondo, or gardening, each has its special place in my routine. However, if I had to highlight one, it would be immersing myself in nature with my family, particularly through hillwalking in Scotland (when there are no midges, or we manage to avoid them).

Do you have a favourite place in the world?

My favourite place in the world has to be Hawaii, where my husband and I spent our honeymoon years ago. The experience of snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters, surrounded by colourful fish and green turtles (and no sharks!), was utterly tranquil and mesmerizing. The natural beauty of Hawaii, from its lush landscapes to its vibrant marine life, left a lasting impression on me. Although I’m not sure when we’ll be able to return, the images and feelings from those moments in the water remain vividly with me, serving as a haven of happiness and peace in my mind.

What makes you happy?

My family and the little things in life make me happy: a walk in nature, hearing and seeing birds, plants sprouting, flowers blooming, reading a good book, and slowly enjoying a pot of one of my favourite teas on weekend mornings.

What have you done you are most proud of?

What I’m most proud of involves two distinct yet profoundly impactful aspects of my life. First and foremost, raising my son has been an incredibly rewarding journey. Witnessing his growth, learning from the challenges, and celebrating the milestones have been an unparalleled experience. Seeing him develop into a fantastic individual is a constant source of pride and joy for me.

Secondly, a personal achievement that stands out is my journey with taekwondo. A few years ago, during a difficult period in my life when my mental health was at its lowest, I decided to join my son in his taekwondo classes. It was a step into the unknown, devoid of any expectations or pressures I had previously faced in my career. Remarkably, just a year into this new venture, I competed in an international competition held in Glasgow. It was a scenario far outside my comfort zone, especially considering I had never been inclined toward sports as a child. Winning the gold medal in sparring (of all!), in my age and weight category, was an extraordinary moment of triumph and joy. This achievement not only boosted my confidence but also demonstrated the power of stepping out of one’s comfort zone and embracing new challenges. It was a pivotal moment that instilled in me a newfound confidence, influencing positively all aspects of my life.

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