Alba Pages Zamora: Advice From a Visiting Scholar

While working and living on campus over the summer, I had the unique opportunity to get survival Spanish lessons from Alba Pages Zamora, a visiting scholar from Barcelona. It was also a fun way for her to get to practice English in a non-professional or academic setting and learn more colloquial language. Though Alba left after the summer had ended, she reached out to me again in January to say that she was coming back to Minneapolis to oversee a research project with a student. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up, and have an impromptu interview about how she found her passion for what she does. Alba was recently at the University of Minnesota collaborating with the Digital Technology Center. Unfortunately a lot of the detail of what she’s currently researching and studying goes completely over my head, but everything is conveniently online and seriously impressive.

She’s a professor at the same university where she got her undergraduate and professional degrees, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Barcelonatech, and works for the Spanish government with her research and work focusing on signal processing. It’s a field of engineering that, like in the United States, is dominated by men. That kind of environment has it’s own set of challenges, and Alba had some great words on how to be assertive, professional and confident in yourself and in your career.

Her main point: “Don’t be submissive to be accepted.”

Alba really stressed that women especially tend to care too much about the opinions of others when looking for feedback or taking direction. Success in her field is a balance between working well with others and standing your ground, and Alba says it’s something that is learned with time.

But this concept is also something to be mindful of and it should be quickly learned. Avoiding conflict is dangerous because ultimately, you’re only making your work harder for yourself. It’s the understanding that people have differing perspectives that will allow you to succeed. Over-analyzing a situation is not a habit of successful professionals, although it is common habit that we all do. Successful professionals understand the importance of perspective.

So how do you change your perspective?

Alba says she doesn’t have the recipe, if there were to be one.  She suggests to avoid analyzing situations in a personal way. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you or support one of your ideas doesn’t mean that they don’t like you as a person. It’s difficult when you work so closely with other people, but it’s a part of a professional environment that is essential to personal growth and advancement in your career.

Alba also reminds us to know our place.

If you’re in a position of authority, you can use it unapologetically to gain support and delegate. You shouldn’t have to worry about what people will think of a task you’re assigning. It has nothing to do with personal respect and everything to do with professional respect and getting the job done.

There isn’t competition or divide between choosing to please others or choosing personal growth. You can do both at the same time, although it’s easy to think that you should or need to put others first.

“You, as a person or subject, have to authorize yourself to do whatever you want.”

Alba mentioned that her biggest take away is when she learned to focus on her career and her goals instead of the goals and ideas of others. Besides feeling more fulfilled and inspired by her work, Alba notes that there is also a certain level of calm that you can get from finally learning fueling yourself.

What you can learn from Alba:

Don’t be afraid to speak up, especially in a professional setting. Know that you’re where you are because of your hard work, ability, talent and drive. Alba reminds us that you shouldn’t feel intimidated, although that’s so much easier said than done. Understand who’s there to guide you and who’s meant to push you and remember that your goals should come first. Feeling happy and fulfilled by your job is more worthwhile than simply feeling accepted by the people you work with. It’s all balance and it’s learned with time and experience.