Series to Highlight Women in Signal Processing: Dr. Raquel Bailón Luesma

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Series to Highlight Women in Signal Processing: Dr. Raquel Bailón Luesma

Abhishek Appaji

Raquel Bailón Luesma Dr. Raquel Bailón Luesma I was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1978. As a child, I enjoyed studying and learning new things. I loved Math and the way they can be used to explain almost everything, but I was not attracted to technology at all! I never envisioned myself as an Engineer, but rather thought I would study Medicine, or something related to taking care and healing people. However, during my last high school years I was advised to study Telecommunications Engineering, since it was the “career of the future” by then, and I was skilled at Math and Physics. While studying Telecommunications Engineering at the University of Zaragoza, I enjoyed the most subjects related to signal processing. However, it was not until my fourth year, when Prof. Pablo Laguna, who became later my mentor and PhD supervisor, offered me a traineeship to apply signal processing techniques to the electrocardiogram signal to identify patients with coronary artery disease, that I discovered my passion. At that moment, I decided that I wanted to earn my living developing signal processing techniques to decipher clinically and physiologically relevant information hidden in biomedical signals that can help in the diagnosis and monitoring of diseases. So, I pursued my PhD in Biomedical Engineering, during which I did as many research stays as I could (Canada, Sweden, Italy, France)! I enjoyed living in different countries, learning different ways of thinking, and doing, and I found all of them enrichment experiences both in the scientific and personal level. Some of the people I met during my research stays became friends for life!  Then, I soon got a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Zaragoza, where I am currently Associate Professor, combining my teaching on the Telecommunication Engineering Bachelor and Biomedical Engineering Master with my research on biomedical signal processing.

We approached Dr. Raquel Bailon Luesma with a few questions to learn more:

1. Why did you choose to become a faculty in the field of Signal Processing?

Being passionate about research on biomedical signal processing, it came like the natural path. Although my main research focus is on the processing of biomedical signals, signal processing has countless applications, rapidly spreading into new areas, and is a core element in technological advancements and scientific discoveries.

Being a faculty member gives you freedom to conduct your own research, developing your ideas and getting the resources to implement them. It also gives you the possibility to meet and collaborate with talented researchers all over the world. Moreover, as much as the research, I enjoy the teaching and training of young engineers and scientists. I find working with students very rewarding, helping and guiding them in their learning process to improve their skills towards mastery.

2. How does your work affect society?

Over the years, my research group BSICoS (Biomedical Signal Interpretation and Computational Simulation) has developed methods for biomedical signal processing, driven by physiology, with the aim of helping in the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of conditions of the cardiovascular, respiratory and autonomic nervous systems. I have mainly worked in the non-invasive monitoring of the autonomic nervous system, whose malfunctioning has been related to several chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, depression, obstructive sleep apena). The processing of the electrocardiogram and photoplethysmographich signals in this field has an added value for assessing the disease progression and allowing personalized treatment. Other appealing applications out of the clinical field, especially for signals recorded by wearable devices, are monitoring fitness level and sports performance, stress, and well-being.

Our work as academics also has a big impact on society since we contribute to the education and training of the Engineers of the future, which will need to make significant contributions to society. It is important to educate them to be responsible, to have critical thinking and to excel in their work.

3. What challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

For me the biggest challenge is that the time is limited and there are so many interesting applications to work in! More importantly, conciliation of family and work is challenging. We live in a continuum of deadlines which require extensive work during non-standard schedules, and it is difficult to set up boundaries between personal and professional life, especially when you are passionate about your work.

4. What advice would you give to scientists/engineers in the field of signal processing?

It is important to have a deep understanding and background in the field of the application where we are working on to develop and apply the proper signal processing technique. My advice to young engineers and scientists is not to rush to apply the “in fashion” methods to any kind of signals/data. Get a deep understanding of the methods, invest time studying signal processing books and reference papers, get to know the signals/data, and then interpret the results in the light of the underlying system generating them. Pursue to do relevant work rather than just a publication.

5. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

As I mentioned before, it is important to have a deep knowledge of your field of application. This is very difficult to be achieved by only one person, or even one area of knowledge, that is why it is important to work in a multidisciplinary team, collaborating with experts in different areas. Most of our research in biomedical signal processing is done in collaboration with clinical teams and experts in physiology. This is also important to promote the clinical translation of our research.  

I also value the collaboration with international researchers all over the world, research has no boundaries! Nowadays, technology has made this very easy but, although it is great to strengthen existing collaborations, it cannot replace the learning and enrichment you get when you do a research stay in a lab.

To learn more about Raquel Bailon Luesma, please visit her webpage.


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