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Carmen van Vilsteren - Leading women in technology #1

Carmen van Vilsteren
Director Strategic Area Health, Eindhoven University of Technology

Since 1 April 2019, Carmen has been the Chair of Top Sector Life Sciences & Health- a position she combines with her job at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). She brings together researchers, industry and other (academic) partners in order to improve and impact healthcare with high-tech innovation. Alongside that, Carmen is co-founder of Microsure, a TU/e spinoff in the field of microsurgical robots.

Carmen studied Industrial Engineering and Design at Delft University of Technology.

Were you a girl who played with Lego instead of dolls?

Definitely Lego. In my childhood there were no fancy predesigned sets like there are nowadays. My brothers just had a box full of ordinary Lego bricks and a few wheels and one door. But that didn’t matter. I built from my imagination. We still have the box. Nice fact: my son also liked to play with Lego when he was a child. From the age of three he claimed he was going to work for Lego. Now he does work for them, as a designer. So that proves that if you set your mind to it, you can become whatever you want.

“Once I realized the positive impact technology could have on human health, I was hooked.”

Why did you choose this field of expertise?

Right from my early years in school I was mostly interested in science and creating things. I was intrigued by solving problems. As I grew older I especially wanted to solve ‘people’s problems’: how could I make their lives easier or better? I thought Industrial Engineering and Design best combined the science, creation and problem solving.

After finishing university I got a job at Philips. I worked on the development of CD-players and domestic appliances before I got to work for the Health Care division. Once I realized the positive impact that technology could have on human health, I was hooked. I could not only solve people’s problems, but help improve their health.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?
And how did you overcome them?

I would have to say the fact that I had to proof myself as a woman working in a conservative, male-dominated field. The high-tech sector was and still is. They would think I was the secretary. They would have doubts about my expertise. I have even literally heard: “I am not going to listen to / work for a woman!” You have to be really motivated to reach your goals to deal with that and not give up. Because it is painful. You just have to grit your teeth and push through. Even when you hit the glass ceiling. And you will.

I have been able to get to where I am not only because of my expertise and perseverance. As a working mom I work four days a week. And my husband does too. That is the only way we can combine ambitious careers and having a family: doing it together and supporting each other. And that can be an advantage, I have learned. My male colleagues said that working part time was only an option for women; if they did the same they wouldn’t be able to move forward in their careers – until I became their boss and proved they were wrong.

And fair to say that there were male managers who did believe in me. Who were open to less conventional options. And who did want me to succeed.

What are you most proud of?

My career at Philips and especially the Health Care division. In the Cardiovascular X-ray division, I successfully led the development of new systems that are now used to diagnose and treat patients with cardiovascular diseases every second of the day, all over the world. I think it is really awesome that I was part of the development of such a system.

How is your field of expertise going to change our future?

There are lots of developments that are going to have an impact on health care. More and more we are looking into ways to improve our way of living and nutrition in order to prevent people from getting sick. And technologies like data science and artificial intelligence will help diagnose people at an earlier stage, or even predict if they are going to become sick.

Along with these technological developments, patients are becoming more in charge of their own treatment than ever before. Communication between physicians and patients has improved. The time when the physician-patient relationship was a one-way conversation is over. As a patient you can decide if and how you want to be treated – together with your physician, of course, who now has more options to help you become or stay healthy.

Looking back, what would be your advice to your
18-year old self?

Oh… that would be: you better make sure you get ready with all your ambitions. Be prepared! Because it is not going to be easy.

>> Watch Carmen's presentation on Female Tech Heroes event - May, 2019

Read more personal stories from women in technology:

This interview and its contents are on no account associated with the existing or any future relationship with TMC. It aims to inspire women in technology and came about in collaboration with High Tech Campus Eindhoven and the Female Tech Heroes Network.

Photo credit: Bart van Overbeeke

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