RUB » Equal Opportunities Portal » Women in Science » Interview with Dorothea Kolossa

Jun.-Prof. Dr Dorothea Kolossa

Short biography:
Dorothea Kolossa teaches and conducts research at the RUB Institute for Communication Acoustics. She heads the Digital Signal Processing research group.

Guiding principle: Rerum cognoscere causas – to know the causes of things.

Julia Bandow

Interview with Dorothea Kolossa

You are a Juniorprofessor in the Fakultät of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. What does your work involve?

In my position as JuniorprofessorI’m involved in the broad range of topics dealing with digital signal processing. Basically it’s about the reconstruction of information from recordings and recorded measurements. My specific focus is automatic speech recognition. The aim is to process speech recordings in such a way that our automatic speech recognition system can reliably and precisely transcribe the contents of the recording into written text.

What in particular fascinates you about your field of research?

The thing I’ve found interesting from the very beginning of my studies in electrical engineering is learning how to solve problems which at first glance seem impossible. Speech recognition is an example of just such a problem which initially doesn’t seem to have any possible solutions. If I look at speech as a signal, I can see that the same person will utter the same word in a different way every time. It’s very rewarding to figure out which methods to apply to uncover the meaningful structures within these signals despite the problems. Using statistical methods and the appropriate algorithms, these elusive structures can be recognised, and the same approach can be transferred to other applications as well.

Were you already planning an academic career while you were studying?

Yes and no – I wasn’t quite sure. During my studies I held a position as a tutor and I really enjoyed teaching. While I ultimately intended to pursue doctoral training, I was planning on an industry-sponsored doctoral degree in order to do application-oriented work in a research institute. I then transferred to TU Berlin because my institute had to close, and ever since then I’ve been very happy within the academic setting in terms of opportunities for collaboration and scientific exchange.

You studied journalism for a while and finally completed a degree in computer science. What motivated you to change disciplines?

I decided to study journalism because when I finished school, I didn’t want to go into a typical office job, I wanted to see new countries and meet new people, and I also enjoy writing. When I started studying I soon realised that it is extremely difficult to actually land one of the desirable jobs in this field. At the same time, I met people who were studying subjects like electrical engineering and mathematics, and who travelled the world with these disciplines and were enthusiastic about their subject area.

You spent some time doing research abroad. Why did you decide to resume your academic career in Germany?

I like to be near my family and friends. The Juniorprofessurgives me the opportunity to also plan some time doing research abroad, so that I can participate in various collaborations and continue to build upon them in my work here. At RUB I especially like the community feel and the opportunities to work together within the very young Fakultät of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. I have the feeling that the way we cooperate here isn’t competitive but very team-oriented and interdisciplinary.

How do you manage to balance career and family/partnership?

Yes, the two can be combined, but it’s definitely a challenge. I’m married and my husband also found employment here at RUB. We don’t have any children of our own, but I know of many cases among my acquaintances, where family and academic career are successfully combined; and RUB also provides support to manage this.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Many things! Primarily, I love travelling, and I like jogging and playing badminton or tennis. I like to meet up with friends and attend improv theatre or poetry slams.
If you were RUB’s rector for a day, what would be the first thing you would do?
I have the feeling that the entire university is facing an enormous financial strain. I’d investigate how the Rectorate might be able to give all academics greater freedom so they can focus more intensely on research and teaching, without being burdened by rankings and the pressures of evaluation. We have a commitment to society to drive fundamental research forward and to provide students with a comprehensive education. Because of this, I’d be eager to make sure that the full range of options to make this possible is available, although I realise that this goal would represent a huge challenge.

What is your guiding principle for research and teaching?

I don’t really have one, but I’ve just remembered the motto of the newspaper Berliner Tagesspiegel, which I find very appealing: “rerum cognoscere causas”. This means “to understand the causes of things”. In research I see this understanding as an essential aim, which also provides the basis for real progress. And also in teaching, the search for and discovery of causes lead to a real understanding of the core issues and scientific method. I often find it’s more important, for example, to explain why someone has gone to the trouble of developing a certain formula than to give a complete step-by-step description of the derivation of every formula.