When she graduated in Mechanical Engineering in 1982, there were only 3 women in her class out of 350 students. The low presence of women in the engineering field, however, has never represented a threat to her. After completing the Master’s degree, in fact, she decided to do a PhD in Bio-engineering. Here’s our interview with Maria Laura Costantino, Professor of Industrial Bio-engineering at Politecnico di Milano and President of the MEDTEC School, the university degree in Medicine and Biomedical Engineering run by Humanitas University in partnership with Politecnico di Milano.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I’m Maria Laura Costantino and I’m a professor at Politecnico in Milan. I hold a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Bio-engineering. I’ve worked all my life at Politecnico, where I’m responsible for the Artificial Organs Lab. Here, I basically study assist devices and artificial organs.
Who or what has influenced your decision to obtain a Phd in Bio-engeneering?
The experimental activities I’ve carried out while writing my Mechanical Engineering dissertation. More specifically, back then, I designed a blood oxygenator which also got to be tested on animals to check its proper functioning. That experience absolutely thrilled me and pushed me to pick this university path.
You teach Industrial Bio-engineering at Politecnico di Milano. This field combines Biomechanics with Biomaterial Engineering. What fascinates you the most about this topic?
The possibility to design devices that enable the rehabilitation of biological functions. Another amazing thing is the close relationship with the clinical environment, which is necessary to identify, design and test all modern devices.
Have you ever experienced gender inequality in academia?
Academia doesn’t support a misogynous behaviour. However, there are a number of university activities which are for sure less suitable for women because they require a lot of time. Children, especially at the beginning, limit their mothers’ possibility to move around. I must say, however, that I’ve personally never experienced gender inequality.
How’s the female presence in the Engineering world?
When I’ve graduated in Mechanical Engineering, we were 3 women out of 350 students in my class. When I’ve moved on to Biomedical Engineering, the number of women increased as a lot of students had previously attended Electronic Engineering, which had a greater percentage of women than Mechanical Engineering. For sure Mechanical Engineering isn’t yet very popular among females. On the contrary, Biomedical Engineering is female-dominated (60-65% of the students are females), at least here at Politecnico, as it’s considered for some reason more suitable for us. As an experienced mechanical engineer, I guarantee you that any women can graduate in any Engineering field.