Romana Blazevic: “Porto’s ecosystem is approachable and open to discussions”

At UPTEC, we have our doors open for new ideas, innovation, challenges and secondments. We welcome startups, big companies, universities and hubs from all over the world. Romana Blazevic from the Graz University of Technology, one of UPTEC’s partners in the OpenInnoTrain community, is the next interviewee of “Open Doors”, and she will share her four week experience in UPTEC and his main reasons for joining our ecosystem.


Romana Blazevic || PhD candidate at the Graz University of Technology, Austria
Graz University of Technology || Austria || 13,672 Students and 3852 Personnel

Graz University of Technology: Science, Passion, Technology heart

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your research project.

I am Romana Blazevic, a PhD candidate at Graz University of Technology, Austria. I am a part of the Doctoral School of Information and Communication Engineering and am working at the Institute of Technical Informatics (ITI). When starting my work at ITI, I joined the Industrial Informatics working group, which was oriented towards industry and tackling challenges in technology, process improvement, and new compulsory standards. My research focuses on trustworthy AI, a part of dependable automotive engineering. I am aiming to enhance safety in autonomous AI-based lane detection systems, which could potentially serve as an excellent example of AI-based systems that perform nicely when integrated in such a complex area for people who have a considerable dose of scepticism about AI-based systems which are to be incorporated in environments where human lives are at stake. To make these systems trustworthy, I am figuring out the trust indicators which are going to serve as objective measures about the performances of these systems and which will eventually lead to the broader public’s acceptance of the AI-based systems and their safe deployment in the environments mentioned above, such as automotive.


Why did you choose to come to UPTEC for your research project?

Since I am a part of an Industrial Informatics group at my institute back in Graz, I became tightly connected with industry and companies through projects. I saw how academia fills the missing pieces of puzzles for the sector and vice versa regarding innovative products and initiatives. Since I only had experience working in academia and research, I wanted to see how the companies work their way up to success. I also wanted to know how the ecosystem and incubation of these companies/start-ups work. With OpenInnoTrain, I saw an excellent opportunity to fulfil my wish. UPTEC seemed like a perfect match for my requirements since it promotes contact between companies, businesses, start-ups and the scientific community and keeps that connection between academia and industry. Nevertheless, I aimed to contact companies that share my interests and possibly establish a link with them regarding our mutual interests. Furthermore, I wanted to gain ideas from the start-ups with which I am sharing my research focus to boost my research on my topic and inspire further work.


What expectations did you have before starting your secondment in Porto?

At first, I was slightly intimidated by the secondment itself since it was my first time travelling to an unknown place completely alone, where I didn’t know anyone and where I would spend that much time practically living by myself in a foreign country. I was thinking about it the whole week before my travels! I hoped for a quick adjustment to living in the city and a good connection with people at UPTEC. I hoped for excellent discussions with people from companies at the networking events that UPTEC hosted since I saw these events as a perfect opportunity to discuss things I am genuinely interested in with experts in that field.

Were your expectations met?

My expectations were definitely met! I adjusted so quickly to the city itself, and the people that I met everywhere were so kind and friendly. They remind me a lot of people from the Balkans. Growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I got used to the laid-back atmosphere, chilled environments, smiles and laughter everywhere and anywhere, loud talking, and greeting everyone on the street, so I felt very welcomed in the city. My host, Raphael Stanzani, was the best host ever! He introduced me to the UPTEC ecosystem quickly, made sure to remind us about every networking event which could be of interest, and made us feel good about our current working space; I appreciated it a lot. The people from the coworking space were very friendly and interested in what the newbies (secondees from OIT) are doing, and they worked on exciting stuff as well and felt free to share their work with us. This was a great way to practice introducing your work to people who are not part of your field but are interested in what you are working on, so you need to think of a way to explain it to them as nicely as possible. As the days went by, I felt more comfortable talking with others about my work and asking them questions that crossed my mind during our discussions. I had an opportunity to be a part of multiple networking events, one of which was AI regulation, which is my specific research topic, and I was able to meet so many great people from all around the world.


Which connections to stakeholders in the Porto ecosystem could be made?

The Porto ecosystem is so approachable and open to discussions, sharing knowledge, and contacts that it’s easy to make connections. I connected with several people working in the automotive field, mainly focusing on AI-based autonomous systems, one of which is the ongoing AI4REALNET project, which is a part of INESC. I also connected with a few other people from start-ups with interesting products they were developing. Overall, at UPTEC, which is so versatile and outgoing, no matter which field of work you are in, you can always find something for yourself and connect with others.

What aspects of your secondment in Porto did you especially enjoy?

I loved that I chose Porto as the city where I’ll do my secondment! I loved the city so much and felt connected to it as well; I thought I would cry on my way back home. I remember my last day in Porto; it was so windy outside and a bit rainy, but I couldn’t force myself to leave the beautiful Douro River promenade and its offered views, so I returned to my apartment. I loved the architecture, and the old buildings of Porto, Douro Valley and the wineries were stunning; the sights from the Crystal Palace Gardens were breathtaking. I also loved Matosinhos because I had the opportunity to go surfing there and eat the most delicious fresh fish dishes. I loved Rua da Galeria de Paris on weekend nights since it’s full of people and the bars are so much fun (but I am not sure if I am allowed to mention this in this interview, haha). Overall, I loved the city so much, and I will return sometime soon!

How will your project continue after your time here in Porto?

When I return home, I will tell my colleagues all the fun stories from Porto, give them their souvenirs and ask them to use their time until the end of June to go on a secondment here! I will share the ideas I gained during discussions and networking events and propose that we could do something similar at our university since meeting with others and talking professionally in such a chilled atmosphere is so cool. I will consider the pieces of advice and ideas from others in continuing my research and update them with results!


April 23, 2024

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