Cila Herman

Current Position: at Johns Hopkins University
Cila Herman
Highlight Through my work I met wonderful, smart and wise people who helped me along the way.
December 4, 2005Her job: Johns Hopkins University
Describe what you do in your current work situation? I am a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. In my job as a professor I teach undergraduate and graduate classes in basic heat transfer, thermodynamics, advanced convection, conduction and radiation, aerospace systems and HVAC. I also established the Heat Transfer Laboratory where I work with my students on problems in the field of heat transfer enhancement, electrohydrodynamics, boiling in microgravity under the influence of electric fields, thermoacoustics, visualization and optical tomography. More information on my research is available on my webpage
Why did you choose engineering? After enrolling into Electrical Engineering (which was the wish of my parents), my plan was to get the EE degree first, find a job and become independent, and then study medicine to be able to practice the profession I was in love with. I had no idea what EE was and what an EE does. I hated the first two years of my studies, but did well anyway. I started enjoying EE and engineering in general during the third year, when I started working on a research project doing computational/numerical work. This was the moment when I realized that engineering was "my thing." I learned to love my profession and my experience with computers earned me a position of a research assistant at the University of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, at the Institute of Energy and Chemical Engineering after graduation. I enrolled into the Master's program in Control Engineering. In the end my parents made a good choice for me. I believe engineering offered me opportunities that I would not have had if I stayed with medicine. I am very happy with my profession.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? My B.S. degree is in Electrical Engineering and my M.S. in Controls, both from the University of Novi Sad in Yugoslavia. I received my doctoral degree (Dr.-Ing.) from the Technical University of Munich and the University of Hannover in Germany. My elementary and high-school education was in Hungarian, classes at the University of Novi Sad were in Serbo-Croatian, my dissertation is in German and I teach in English. I also speak some French and Spanish and find languages fascinating.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work? My research is very multidisciplinary, involving acoustics, optics, electrohydrodynamics, all associated with heat transfer. I enjoy learning and discovering new fields of science. I was always open to new challenges, experiences and changes in my life and profession and seized the opportunities of the moment. This was a key element that allowed me to accomplish what I did in my profession. It makes me happy when I see that working with me has touched the life of some of my students. Sometimes we can make a difference in a person's life by providing guidance and support and this is very rewarding.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I love the freedom and creativity. I am able to choose the research topics I am most interested in for my research. I consider myself very fortunate to have a background in electrical, control and mechanical engineering.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? Connections... My great wish was to study abroad. I applied to the Fulbright program to spend a year in the US. I was the only one in Yugoslavia to earn 100% in the test and my remaining credentials were excellent, but I did not win the award. I called the organization in Belgrade to find out what to do better next time. The response was, "Find better connections." "Connections" was the keyword in Yugoslavia those days (I hope this is changing). I had the ability, knowledge and enthusiasm, but not the right connections and I was very discouraged. My application for a scholarship to Germany almost ended up the same way, however, suddenly, by some miracle, I was switched from "reserve" to full candidate. I had two weeks to move to Germany - I received a one-year scholarship at Lehrstuhl A for Thermodynamics of the Technical University of Munich. One year in Germany turned into two, then into five. I earned a Ph.D. at the Technical University of Munich in Mechanical Engineering. I moved from the "feminine" profession of electrical engineering to the "male" profession of mechanical engineering. An academic and research career was my dream during the years in Germany and I worked very hard towards this dream. The war... The war in Yugoslavia started during my third year in Germany. Every day I was watching on the news the towns, places and buildings I knew being destroyed. It became obvious that there was little future for me in Yugoslavia under those conditions. As a woman and foreigner, my chances to find a job in Germany were slim. I got a map of the US and a friend faxed me the Faculty Position pages of the ASME Mechanical Engineering magazine. I looked up the universities that advertised openings for faculty positions and sent out my applications. I was thrilled to receive the offer from the Johns Hopkins University. I had my thesis defense in Germany on Friday afternoon and started at Hopkins on Monday morning (I would not recommend this under normal conditions). That morning life started happening in English. The environment People around me were often not very encouraging. I heard all too often the phrase "you'll never make it." Where I come from, people do "normal" things, they don't fly in microgravity or win prestigious awards. With time I learned not to listen to these voices, I would do my best because that was the only thing I could do. Being the first woman? I was the first woman scientist in the institutes I worked at in three countries, each environment brought its own, very different challenges.
Please tell us a little about your family. My parent, my mother a physician and my father a journalist, were excellent role models. They did everything possible to give me the best education. Unfortunately I lost some of my family during the war. My mother still lives in Yugoslavia and visits me when her health and political situation allow it.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? Many of my dreams did come true. After the turmoil of war, I live in peace and stability in the country of my choice. I enjoy doing cutting-edge research and wish to be a leading researcher in my field. I am hoping that funding for my microgravity EHD experiment on board of the International Space Station will become available soon. I am the principal investigator of an international project involving researchers from Germany, France and the US. I am always exploring new, exciting areas of research. I have a large number of students (undergraduate, graduate and even high-school students) working in the lab, many of them are women. One of my goals is to encourage and motivate young people, especially women, to pursue a challenging research career.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? Through my work I met wonderful, smart and wise people who helped me along the way. People who were better than I provided the motivation and inspiration I needed to take the next step. I received very generous personal and professional support, sometimes when I least expected it. I am fortunate to have the best friends - all over the world - and I know that I can count on them even though I don't meet them very often. I try to support my students in a similar way and provide similar inspiration to another generation.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. I enjoy hiking with my two German Shepherds, Beau and Riley, and training them. We attended doggie university together for almost two years and they are very well trained. They are the best company during the long evenings I work at home. I am active in German Shepherd rescue and am proud of the lives I saved. Working with dogs is rewarding: they teach me unconditional love, honesty, innocence and trust, something that is often missing among humans these days. I love reading and writing as well as photography, I wish I had more time for that.