Rebekka Wohlrab receiving the Alumni of the Year award from WASP Co-director Amy Loutfi. Photo: Peter Karlsson, Svarteld

The academic path was not part of Rebekka Wohlrab’s initial plan. However, after an impressive start of an academic career, she is now awarded the WASP Alumni of the Year Award.

Autonomous systems make numerous decisions and trade-offs internally. Rebekka Wohlrab seeks to understand how systems can arrive at better decisions that are aligned with humans’ preferences and intentions. The goal is to enable humans to express what is important to them and intervene when necessary, so that safety, security, reliability, and other key qualities are maintained.

Today, Rebekka Wohlrab is an Assistant Professor at Chalmers University of Technology. Her career from PhD studies to a faculty position has been rather fast, even though it was not really in her plan only a few years ago.

Giving PhD studies a try

In 2015, Rebekka Wohlrab was working on her Master’s thesis when the opportunity for PhD studies came up.

– It wasn’t something I had really thought about before, but it sounded interesting, so I agreed to give it a try.

She was admitted to the WASP Graduate School in the first batch of PhD students and started her position at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, in 2016. As an industrial PhD student, she split her time between research and studies at the university and engineering work at Systemite AB.

– During my PhD time, I liked the flexible way of working, reading and writing papers. There were always new things to discover, new people to work and discuss with. I also really enjoyed all the trips. We went to South Korea, Argentina, Singapore… I realized that this was all actually part of my job and that it’s super helpful to discuss ideas with many different researchers.

Exploring academic life in the U.S.

In April 2020, she successfully defended her doctoral thesis and was on her way to the next step on the academic career ladder – a WASP-funded postdoc position at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh.

– It was a bit of an anticlimax; due to the pandemic my defense was held online, and the celebration was quite modest. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, there were many Covid restrictions, so I spent a lot of time at home. However, it was great, and I learned a lot discovering new fields and methods and gained insights into new topics and areas.

Apart from new perspectives on research, the time as a postdoc was also a culturally enriching experience.

– The time at CMU showed me something about the differences between European and American cultures and it made me reflect about what it is being German and Swedish. I travelled some in the U.S. and discovered new perspectives on life philosophies and how the way of life can be so different.

Building her own research group

It is January 2024, and Rebekka is back in Gothenburg but now as an Assistant Professor with a competitive grant from WASP.

– I never thought that my CV would become such a WASP-CV, but here I am. And thanks to WASP, Sweden now has an additional citizen.

She has hired her first two PhD students, is looking for two postdocs, and has no plans on going back to industry.

– I discovered that I really enjoy research and working in the academic environment. Being a researcher gives me freedom. I can choose my topics out of curiosity and do what drives me from the inside and not just from business needs.

She continues:

– I bring all my experiences from the time as a PhD student and as a postdoc with me when I am now about to build my own research group. The main people that have influenced me are my supervisors. They have had different ways of working, but they left a lot of freedom to me as a student. I try to do that with my students too while being adaptive to different students’ needs. It feels very meaningful to teach and to see the PhD students learn and develop. They often come up with great ideas and it’s so much fun to collaborate with them. I learn a lot and it helps me grow as a leader too.

Rebekka Wohlrab smiling.

Rebekka Wohlrab giving her Alumni of the Year presentation, January 2024. Photo: Peter Karlsson, Svarteld

Motivation Rebekka Wohlrab – WASP Alumni of the Year 2023

Rebekka Wohlrab has laid the foundation for outstanding research in the engineering of self-adaptive systems. As a WASP Alumn she leveraged upon a WASP international postdoc scholarship at Carnegie Mellon University to build upon her PhD work at Chalmers. Through the WASP repatriation grant, Rebekka was recruited to Chalmers for a tenure-tracked assistant professorship. With a competitive research output in top venues, a series of best paper awards, funding acquisition far beyond expectation, and last but not least through a pedagogical prize at University of Gothenburg, Rebekka Wohlrab has exhibited a model career as a WASP Alumni.

Learn more about Rebekka's research in her talk from the WASP Winter Conference 2024

Curious about the previously awarded WASP Alumni?

Published: February 26th, 2024

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