First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Ruzena Bajcsy


Full name

Ruzena Bajcsy

Birth Date


What Award did you receive from IEEE?

2021 IEEE Medal for Innovations in Health Technology

Place of Birth


Where did you grow up

Bratislava, Slovakia

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

My father was a civil engineer and my mother was a pediatrician.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I wanted to be a scientist. My model was Madam Curie.

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

My childhood was tumultuous because we lived under a Fascist government and, as Jews, we were constantly in fear.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

I liked mathematics and problem solving.I admired my father because of his creativity in designing civil structures.

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

Not anything particular, it was wartime.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

I tutored mathematics.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

NO, during my grammar school years, there was WAR! During my high school years, I was an orphan (my parents were killed by the Nazis), so there were no vacations,no family. I lived in an orphanage.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

Mathematics, because of its clarity. Later I loved physics because of its connection to reality.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

Gymnastics, I was not well coordinated

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

The Slovak Technical University was the only university I could attend. I did not have a choice! Originally I wanted to study mathematics, but for political reasons (under the Communism) I was not allowed, so I picked Electrical Engineering, which was the closest to mathematics.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

My first job was in the Slovak Electronic factory, where I was sent as a punishment to learn more about the working class. After five years I was allowed to come back to the university to work on the first Russian computer, URAL 2. In 1967 I got the opportunity to come to study at Stanford University in the U.S., which changed my LIFE. I loved everything at Stanford. I learned a great deal, but I also worked hard.

Has your career turned out as you expected?

My career worked out far better than I ever expected! I feel extremely lucky and grateful to all the people who helped me along the way.

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

IEEE played an enormous role in my professional development. It exposed me to the scientific and engineering worldwide community. Coming form a small country, you have the desire to connect with the rest of the world, check, compare, and test your ideas in a larger context. This is what organizations such as IEEE facilitate. Science and Engineering is GLOBAL. Its progress depends on the exchange of ideas and cooperation.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

This award is in some way the culmination of my interdisciplinary efforts bringing technology to medical science, using scientific methods to make more quantitative diagnostics possible. However there is so much more to do. This is a very exciting time to make advances in one side, understanding the principles of biology and on the other side, and using science for technologies to help people!

What other associations have helped you in your career?

At different times of my career I used different associations who helped me in my scientific journey. The society of Control Engineers is one example; another is the Association of Radiological Sciences, form time to time, and I attended the Society of Psychologists, and humanists. The bottom line is, you can learn form many other disciplines than just yours.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

Ask hard questions and be prepared to learn most of your life. Do not expect fast results! In these days the most challenging problems are at the intersection of two or more fields.

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

Learn more MATH. You never know enough!

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

People had doubts about most of my projects.That is the sign of discovery. I was always driven by curiosity.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

I built an interdisciplinary laboratory, called GRASP lab at UPenn which produced, and continues producing, some leaders in multiple fields: signal processing, robotics, cyberphysical control, medical imaging, and recently Artificial Intelligence. I created an environment where out-of-the-box ideas are supported and nurtured, and where rigor and functioning prototypes are appreciated.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

I read a great deal. I also like to cook and swim.

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

My children, grandchildren, and my students, who are all over the world.

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

I like to experiment, no favorite.

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

I play piano, I prefer classical music.

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.

Unfortunately no.

What are three things people may not know about you?

I am an open book

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

My father, professor John McCarthy

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?