Anka Trajkovska Petkoska is Professor at St. Kliment Ohridski University, Bitola, R. N. Macedonia.
Anka Trajkovska Petkoska’s Story
When did your interest in science or engineering begin?
The interest in science has begun as early as I started the 5th grade in primary school. At that time I was a very curios kid about “How do the things work?”. I got the first answers when I started taking physics and chemistry classes, but they were not sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. Digging in the books that I had access to at that time still was not enough to satisfy my wonders about different materials and machines (devices) around us. This thirst for knowing more about the materials and machines around me yielded to enter the chemical engineering department at university, so I can “connect the dots” and make a big picture of different types of materials and machines.
What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?
To be a woman in engineering for me is something that I am proud today. I never regret that I have chosen this profession. As a student that prefered math, chemistry and physics, I have never had difficulties in passing other courses with good grades by looking for logic in them. In this field, the women were always less than men but just in numbers – they were not underpresented in their performance.
Share with us some of your career highlights.
After graduating in chemical engineering, I became a process engineer in industry. I was happy with my profession excited to show what I have learned, but also my good performance brought me a lot of responsibilities. Again, when I faced a complex challenge, I turned to the engineering books and more experienced people than me (my professors). I gained applied knowledge and hands-on experience. After few years as an engineer in practice, I returned to the graduate school to pursue my MSc and PhD. At the same time, I became an officer in the Army
I was proud to be accepted as an engineer and officer in the first generation of females in the Army of my country (R. North Macedonia). Later, I was promoted to a higher rank, a teaching assistant and a Professor for the cadets in the Military Academy. I wanted more, and therefore, enrolled in the PhD program at the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY (USA). I was teaching assistant there, did my engineering courses, and at the same time became a Mom – the role that I had to play for the first time in my life.
Now I am focused on teaching as a Full professor in academia, but also leading and participating several engineering projects on national and international level.
In summary, during all my career I have been multitasking and stretching outside my comfort zone, trying new things and exploring deeper into the materials science and “how things” work”.
To date, what project is your greatest innovation success? What is the story behind it?
The innovation soul in me was born during the graduate (PhD) school – I was taught to think 5 or 10 years ahead. If I cannot come with such idea or solution for the assigned task, then my supervisor told me it was not worth spending time to do “mediocre” research.
I have few innovation successes, but will elaborate on one of them. Few years ago, I filled a patent application on topical compositions of natural origin for protection against the blue light, which affects us indoors (originating from the energy-efficient LEDs, compact fluorescent bulbs, electronic devices’ screens) and outdoors (coming from the Sun). At that time, the available sunscreen lotions and sprays did not protect beyond UV.
Last year, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected all of us, I tried to find a solution that can be easily applied and protect us from transmission of coronaviruses. Some of the compositions that have been protected in the mentioned patent application, were recently tested for their efficacy against few variants of coronaviruses and showed that are killing up-to 99.8 % of the tested viruses. It is a great discovery, but as an engineer, I am aware that still a lot needs to be done for these antiviral compositions to make it to the market in a form of user-friendly forms (e.g. a nasal or mouth spray, or a hand lotion, etc…)
Tell us about something that made you grow the most as a leader in your field.
At the moment, I am a professor at a national university in my country (R. N. Macedonia). The diversity in my educational process, good mentoring advice by the best teachers and leaders in the field, as well as my engineering spirit of “always finding better ways in solving problems” and my hands-on experience gave me a unique set of skills that differs from my peers and colleagues. Moreover, I am well-connected with projects and collaboration activities with many industries, academic and scientific institutions all over the world which is an advantage for an engineer and a scientist to work as a team with other engineers and scientists.
We are all different, but to work on projects of mutual (global) interest with others is a great accomplishment for me. My collaboration does not rely just on number of grants or finances, but on mutual respect and appreciation for everyone’s knowledge, competencies and sharing ideas. This proves that all of us can contribute to a better world regardless of where we come from and only the sky is the limit.
How are you and/or your company bringing innovation to the forefront?
As a Professor I try to instill innovation in my lectures. I bring the newest advances in materials science, chemical engineering and technology to my students. I challenge them to think outside the classroom, or recently, outside the Zoom meeting. I push them to imagine themselves in a real world – a problem needs to be solved quickly and how they would act in such situations. As a supervisor to numerous master and doctoral students, I ask for novel ideas and research work on something not done before, because being innovative will develop the tomorrow’s leaders and not followers.
What advice do you have for future female engineers?
As a Professor, I always suggest to my students “Embrace the challenges, take risks, so you will not regret later on. Even if you fail, it is still better – you have learned what not to try in the future”. I have been inspired a lot by Thomas Edison. I’d recommend his famous quote to all future engineers: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, and “There’s a way to do it better – find it.” Even my daughter, who is following in my footsteps of becoming Chemical engineer, has heard me to cite the famous Edison’s quote: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Never give up.