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Published: 15 March 2018

Meet the academic: Dr Franjo Cecelja

Reader and Postgraduate Director Dr Franjo Cecelja explains how a Masters in chemical and process engineering can open up a world of opportunities in industry and research.

Franjo Cecelja

Please could you introduce yourself – perhaps you could tell us something that isn’t on your staff profile page?

I’ve tried different things in my professional life and never regretted any of them. I started as a control engineer in the aerospace industry, then moved into physics doing optical sensors, then AI (artificial intelligence)…my curiosity has driven me in many different directions. Frequently, in research, enthusiasm is more important than prior knowledge. 

What’s your favourite memory of being a student?

Well, I remember nights playing poker, and equally long nights spent on computer modelling, which was completely new at the time. I see the students here and observe that those who achieve a good balance are usually successful: it’s important to enjoy your time studying.

How and why did you become an academic?

My first experience of research was at an industry-related institute, where I got the chance to work within a team. I realised that along with my curiosity to research things, I had an equal passion to help people to learn, so academia – combining the two – was a natural way forward.

What excites you most about your current role?

Seeing our former students go on to do interesting jobs across a range of industries, or even start their own businesses. In many cases, students have gone back to countries which have major economic problems and have secured excellent jobs, which makes me very happy.

What is your particular area of academic expertise, and why are you passionate about it?

Systems engineering, in particular AI, knowledge modelling and optimisation with a view to making decisions in engineering. I’m passionate about systems engineering because it gives you an excellent picture of the integration of technology within a company or enterprise, which is what industry needs today. A recent example is the RENESENG project which focuses on decision making and modelling in the biorefining industry.

Why should people study at postgraduate level in your academic area?

Industry definitely needs people with a bigger view than just technology. Our Masters courses are unique in combining technology with business, and this produces highly employable graduates. Some decide to go into the finance sector where they can assess projects and the return on values, while others go into industry to deal with issues such as supply chain.

What are you looking for in a postgraduate student?

Curiosity and enthusiasm are the two key things we’re looking for. Our MSc courses are designed to enable students to tackle a wide range of problems, which means that we are not teaching a prescribed recipe or methodology. Instead, students acquire an ability which they can adapt to new environments and new problems – and that needs to be led by curiosity.

Is there a particular memory of your time at Surrey (so far) which stands out for you?

Every research success and every successfully graduating student has been a good memory, and at Surrey I’ve been lucky enough to have seen many of these.