Marija Iliç is an expert in electricity networks and their future. She was recently appointed Visiting Professor of Intelligent Electricity Networks at TPM (Chair in Control of Future Electricity Network Operations). She is also an honorary lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In addition, Iliç runs her own company: New Electricity Transmission Software Solutions (NETSS, Inc.).
"I was born in 1951 in what was then Yugoslavia. In the 1970s I emigrated to the United States to study. I now live in Boston with my husband and three sons but my work takes me to Pittsburgh all the time. In my leisure time, I play basket ball and enjoy Serbian dancing. I am also a keen gardener, so you won't find me with well-manicured hands! I love yoga as well as sailing with my husband and friends inthe Caribbean. At weekends, I like to watch films with my youngest son and work for the Serbian church community in Boston."
Highlight of your career?
"I have enjoyed every part of it, but my time at Cornell University ('82-'84) will always have a special place in my heart. I was their very first female assistant professor in Electrical Engineering. It was also a very quiet time, so I had plenty of space to think. I was particularly fortunate to cross paths with Professor Granger Morgan from Carnegie Mellon University. He was the one who opened up my eyes to the fact that Electrical Engineering is not a separate entity, but combines equally well with such subjects as Economics and System Engineering. My subject's power lies in its multidisciplinary approach. In that respect Carnegie Mellon leads the way in the US. Just as TPM does in the Netherlands, actually."
Why this chair?
"I was invited to accept this chair, which I see as a real privilege and an honour. It is the first chair that is completely devoted to electricity infrastructures of the future. Besides, Mellon and TPM have been working closely together for years. I work intensively with Professor Margot Weijnen (Professor of Process and Energy Networks at TPM) on multidisciplinary research into critical infrastructure systems. John Groenewegen and Rolf Kunneke are also highly-valued research partners. Together we study the changing electricity industry and its economic and institutional infrastructure. TPM students also regularly join me to work in Pittsburgh. This chair is an excellent way of reinforcing the partnership between the two universities on a permanent basis."
The challenge in Delft?
"I aim to work even more on promoting a multidisciplinary approach in the curriculum. Students need to learn to look beyond the existing tools and to stray from the conventional paths. For me, Delft offers a very pleasant research environment, with experts from the world of energy systems, IT systems, infrastructural economy, policy, management and law, as well as people from the world of practice. We can work together to shape the existing electricity infrastructure to ensure that we will have a reliable, affordable and sustainable supply in the future. That is my mission."
The best thing about your work?
"I enjoy working with students. They look at things from a new perspective and challenge you to stay alert. And every student is different, which means you have to adopt a tailored approach to each and every one. You really get to know each other and develop genuine relationships. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing a student opt to pursue a career in my field."
Your best characteristic?
"I love brainstorming. I am not afraid to express my opinions, but am open to other ideas, either from colleagues or from students. I also regard everyone as a unique individual and try to enable everybody to achieve their full potential."
"Somehow or other, I never seem to have enough time, so I often lag behind. I have more ideas than time, so I need to learn to manage my time more effectively."
Source of inspiration?
"My mentor, John Zaborszky, who has sadly passed away. He took care of me in 1975 when I went to work at Washington University in St. Louis as a student teaching assistant. He taught me all I know, including how to prevent large-scale power blackouts. I owe him so much. We enjoyed a lifetime friendship and wrote the book Dynamics and Control of Large Electric Power Systems together. My second source of inspiration was the University of Belgrade. It was there that I got a thorough grounding in the faculty of Electrical Engineering. Finally, my mother was a major source of inspiration for me. She taught me that you should always set the bar higher when you want to achieve something. My book is dedicated to her."
"Unfortunately, there are far too few female role models. For me, Margot Weijnen is certainly one, as is Dr Elisabeth Drake from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Elisabeth was a great example for me, as I try to be for others. Not because I am a feminist or anything, but because I know from experience how important a role model can be."