If her academic credentials were to speak for themselves, you wouldn’t take long to conclude she’s been a scholar. An IIT Madras alumnus and a Ph.D. in the niche field of Power System Protection, she has been with ABB for the past seven years supporting our Research and Development initiatives. Meet Dr. Simi Valsan, Principal Engineer, Distribution Automation, ELDS.
Having worked on some interesting projects within ABB, Dr. Simi has filed a few patents and got one granted already.
"R&D has always excited me; I enjoy being involved in both core research as well as the Product Development side of things”, remarks Dr. Simi.
She always had a keen interest in the technical field, though it narrowed into R&D much later, during her higher education days. As a technical postgraduate, she chose to pursue her Ph.D. in Power System Protection, a rather niche and complex area.
"I just chose the field based on my interest. It is only later that I realized I was the only woman in the laboratory. I am happy that it set a trend and others followed.”
She owes her interest in the field to her family.
"As kids, we used to accompany our dad to his newly opened factory over the weekends. An engineer himself, he was curious about machines and I guess I got it from him. From an early age I was interested in understanding different types of machinery, tools and product lines.”
Simi is one of those rare people who found out her interest early in her life. We now see her adding immense value to the ABB family, but you'd be surprised to know she hasn’t always been a part of the industry .
"Being selected in the first batch of Early Faculty Induction Program launched by the AICTE as one of the top 50 All India finalists, she taught in SASTRA Deemed University just after finishing her M. Tech from IIT Madras
"As a part of the program introduced for the first time, AICTE was looking at retaining more talent in the academia. They set up an all India level entrance test for engineering graduates, who after qualifying could pursue M. Tech from a premium institute with a much higher scholarship than the regular one, on the condition that they’ll have to be a part of the teaching faculty for the next three years.”
Dr. Simi made it to the top 10 with an all India rank of 9. It wasn’t much of a surprise for her parents who knew and believed in her merit.
"I have had a solid family background. My parents were ready to support their kids for their choices, provided it was based on merit.”
A researcher at heart, she realized rather soon that academic education lacked industry exposure.
"We were teaching everything at the college but whether the kids were ready to be a part of the larger world even after being in premium institutes, I couldn’t say. I realized there had to be more to their education, they have to learn the application bit of it just as much.”
She contemplated moving into the industry right after her Ph.D., and her husband shared a similar view.
“That is when I thought I should have a flavour of the workplace too.” She has worked in Pune, Thane, Bangalore over all these years and has never looked back since.
The usual opinion for people who are so academically inclined is that they are nose deep into books all the time. “That truly is a misconception. I am usually quiet, but curious too. I have interests like everyone else and I would also study just a day before my exams.” remarks Simi.
"We ask her about a challenge that women in technology feel in their professional life. She said, "Mostly the tendency is to believe a man by the words in his resume, whereas a woman has to prove herself first, as the discipline has historically been more skewed towards men."
Passionate about the field she is in, she feels,
"Historically some roles required intense fieldwork, which is why women were not considered as the best candidate for those jobs. But now with almost everything transforming, we need to make people aware of the possibilities. It is a gradual change but required at the same time.”
She feels she's had things falling into place for her,
"I’ve always been lucky. Whether it was my family before marriage or afterwards, we’ve not had conversations around me having to make choice differently courtesy my gender. Immediately after marriage, me and my partner have both lived separately for years together owing to our jobs in different cities. And this was not abnormal, it was understood that careers matter, ambitions matter and we both mutually decided to prioritize life that way. We are finally living in the same city, together, with our son.”
She re-affirms the belief that normal is what we all make, together, showing great hopes for those who are wanting to have a more equal, gender neutral world.