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From her own little world to the other side of the globe

Her studies and her parents used to be her whole world, but now Dr. Avleen Malhi lives on the other side of the world, designs an Airbnb for car drivers, and encourages women to pursue their goals
Woman wearing an orange-colored dress and standing on the grass in between birch trees
Dr. Avleen Malhi lives and works in Otaniemi. One of her favorite places is the Otaniemi beach. Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Postdoctoral researcher Avleen Malhi has achieved a lot at a young age. In 2016, she graduated with a doctoral degree in information security at Thapar University in India and immediately received an Assistant Professor position at her alma mater.

A few years later, she moved from India to the other side of the world, to Finland, and now she works as a project leader in a research project that recently received a significant Business Finland funding and aims to develop an Airbnb-like platform for car drivers.

Already as a child, Dr. Malhi got used to working hard towards her goals. ‘My father is a surgeon and we always had these educational and career-related talks at home. Career and the fact that you always need to excel at everything were always on my mind,’ she tells now.

Her father hoped that she would pursue a career in medicine, but Malhi was more interested in technology. ‘During the tenth grade, I scored 100% in mathematics, which helped me to convince him that I want to go to technology,’ Malhi says laughing.

Her parents always encouraged her to study and supported her, but while she focused solely on school, she did not see the world outside her own small bubble that included only her parents and her studies. She did not have time for hobbies or friends because she focused on being the best student in her class. After moving out of her childhood home however, she started travelling and interacting more with other people. ‘I have evolved a lot and now I am very open to various things.’

eParkly is about creating an Airbnb for parking spaces

Dr. Malhi had wanted to work and live abroad for a long time, and after gaining experience as an Assistant Professor in India for a couple of years, she started looking for postdoctoral positions around the world. She soon got a job interview with an Aalto University’s Adaptive Systems of Intelligent Agents (ASIA) research group, which worked on similar topics she researched in India: autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.

The interview went well, she got the position, and things happened quickly. ‘Immediately after I got the interview results, I applied for a visa and handled all the official things. I was in Finland within two months.’

Now, Malhi works as a project leader in the eParkly project that aims to offer better parking experience to car drivers. In their previous bIoTope project, researchers in Professor Kary Främling’s group developed a mobile application that helps finding and booking an available parking space or charging place for an electric car. The application was piloted in 2018.

A recent study showed that drivers in the US spend 17 hours per year searching for parking.

Avleen Malhi

Now, the group wants to improve this technology and provide a dynamic, demand-based pricing system for parking spaces. ‘If there is more demand, the prices will change accordingly. In short, we are trying to create an Airbnb for parking spaces,’ Malhi explains.

The goal is to solve problems that car drivers encounter on a daily basis: they drive around randomly and spend an excessive amount of time trying to search for parking. Malhi points out: ‘A recent study showed that drivers in the US spend 17 hours per year searching for parking, which is quite a huge amount of time.’

Therefore, an application that shows the parking space availability and location in real time and reliably, and allows booking the parking space in advance, has potential to save an enormous amount of car drivers’ time and make their lives more stress-free. ‘The technology we are using is an IoT messaging framework, which is an open source platform that was already built in the previous bIoTope project.’

The researchers will collaborate with various parking operators and private parking owners. ‘We allow private citizens who own parking spaces to rent those spaces if they wish to do so. Therefore, we are proving an open ecosystem for parking spaces, so that everyone can use them as efficiently as possible.’

Persistence has paid off

In May 2020, Malhi and her colleagues received a Business Finland Research to Business funding of 861,000 euros for their project. It will help to commercialize the innovation, but receiving it was not a walkover.

The first application submitted in September 2019 was rejected and henceforth Malhi’s colleagues forgot the project later. ‘But I am always persistent in what I do, and I was very motivated to try again and give it another opportunity. Rejections are a part and parcel of life.’

Malhi took responsibility for improving the original application. She and her colleagues closed loopholes that they had noticed after receiving the initial feedback and Malhi met Juha Siivola, innovation advisor at Aalto School of Science, several times. Siivola gave her feedback and shared her materials that the research group might find useful. ‘Then we applied again and this time we got it accepted without any further changes.’

Encouraging women to be more ambitious can change the world

Malhi has now lived in Finland for 1.5 years, and thus far, she enjoys her life here. She enjoys her peaceful living environment and spends a lot of time in forests or at the beach. ‘I go often to the Otaniemi beach. It is a very nice place to grab a drink or read a book in the sun.’

She has also positive experiences of the Finnish work life. ‘People here are very nice, cooperative, and supportive. They listen to you and they won’t ignore your ideas even if you were talking from a totally different perspective.’

There is no limit to what we as women can achieve.

Avleen Malhi

As a postdoctoral researcher, Malhi writes research articles and project proposals, guides doctoral researchers, works as a teaching assistant, and manages other team activities. ‘I always try to involve myself in learning new skills. For example, last year I went to a Digital Cities Summer School in Italy to learn about business perspectives of smart cities, which has helped with the eParkly project.’ People around her can see her hunger of knowledge also when she is off-duty; when she turns on the TV, she likes to watch informative shows, such as documentaries and news broadcasts.

One major goals in Malhi’s life is to encourage women to study, build their careers, and pursue their professional dreams. These days, an increasing number of women continue working even if they get children, but many mothers still sacrifice their progression or give up promotions because they take more responsibility for taking care of their home and children.

In many countries, girls still have fewer possibilities to educate themselves than boys do, and even many educated women are not using their full potential. This means that resources are wasted, and the society, companies, and the academic world are losing a remarkable amount of talent. ‘There is no limit to what we as women can achieve. If we encourage women to be a little more ambitious, I think the world can change.’

Avleen Malhi's portrait
Photo: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

Avleen Malhi, Postdoctoral Researcher

Education: PhD in Security of Vehicular Networks from Thapar University

Hails from Patiala City, Punjab, India

Lives in Otaniemi

Greatest professional accomplishment: Getting a postdoctoral position and receiving the Business Finland funding. ‘I got the job without any reference, only with my own hard work. Another thing was getting our project proposal accepted for 861,000 euros. That is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I had a leading role in proposal writing.’

 

Is also

A traveler. ‘Travelling is what makes me me, and I want to travel to each corner of the world – to Antarctica, for example. The most exciting place I have visited was North Lapland. I was in Tromsø for four days and it was the best thing I have ever done. I could have never imagined that nature can be so beautiful. As a kid, you watch all these fairytale movies and I felt like I was in that fairytale, with all the snow-covered streets and trees and the wild.’

A good listener. ‘Whenever it comes to meeting people or getting opinions of people, I always give a chance for other people to speak about themselves and I always listen to their opinions.’

An independent and friendly person. ‘I have learned to navigate foreign countries on my own by developing valuable communications and international collaborations. I try to learn about different cultures and personalities by my interactions and experiences.’

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