Meet Ugandan Electrical and Electronic Engineer, Precious Kaijuka, working to improve railway systems around the world

Meet Ugandan Electrical and Electronic Engineer, Precious Kaijuka, working to improve railway systems around the world
7 min read

Precious Kaijuka is a Ugandan Electrical and Electronic Engineer and currently a PhD student in Control Systems Engineering at Loughborough University in the UK.

Precious Kaijuka

Her research is focused on Railway Systems Engineering, developing a highly robust railway track switch that will improve functionality, safety and capacity of the railway network through the use of advanced model and non-model based control, condition monitoring and fault detection concepts.

Precious Kaijuka at work in the lab

“I was born and raised in Uganda and I’m the youngest child in my family. I started my earlier education in Uganda at Kampala Parents’ School and Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga for primary and secondary school respectively. I completed my A-levels at Peponi School in Kenya where I studied Physics, Computing, Mathematics and Economics. I moved to the UK in 2009 to study a 4-year Masters of Engineering (MEng) degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Loughborough University. Following my graduation, I worked at Goldman Sachs’ London office in their Engineering division for about 3 years. In 2016, I received a research scholarship from Loughborough University to pursue a full time PhD in Control Systems Engineering where I am currently enrolled.”

  • What inspired you to pursue engineering?

“While studying Computing at A-level, we were required to complete a personal project. I chose to build an online voting system, inspired by the need to move to an online electoral voting system in my home country, Uganda. Through my experience moving my ideas from concept to building the final system, I found that I was highly motivated to fix any bugs in the program. I also really enjoyed the thought process behind building the final online voting system. I was awarded a Cambridge Outstanding Achievers’ Award for gaining the country’s highest mark in Kenya during the Computing A-Level Exam because of the voting system I built. This experience began and cemented my passion for problem solving where Engineering seemed like the obvious choice to pick for university.”

  • Why did you decide to pursue engineering in the UK?

“I was interested in studying abroad for university as there was a large variety of engineering courses available. I was motivated to choose Loughborough University as I was given a partial scholarship for the full duration of my undergraduate degree course. The career options available after university and extra co-curricular activities such as Model United Nations that I was a part of made the UK an exciting place for me to study.”

  • Your project on rail track switching technology aims to improve safety, reduce maintenance costs and increase capacity on railways in the UK and around the world. How did you and your team come up with the concept?

“The REPOINT concept came about when the Railway Safety and Standards board (RSSB) in the UK put out a call to answer the question ‘Could a fundamental re-think of railway track switching ease some of the current route-setting constraints to provide higher capacity, and provide a significant reduction in operational unreliability arising from points (track switch) failures?’ The team in the Control Systems’ Group at Loughborough University which I am a part of proposed this: The inclusion of inbuilt redundancy to faults through redundancy in actuation (as exists in safety critical industries like aerospace and nuclear industries) could improve reliability and increase capacity at the junctions. A new switch idea was then developed called REPOINT which stands for Redundantly Engineered points, that is a patented fail-safe switch that incorporates redundancy in actuation and a new mechanical design. The REPOINT switching concept is challenging over 200 years of thinking within the railway industry and has received a number of awards including the 2016 Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation award under the Transport category and 2015 Rail Exec Most Interesting Innovation Award.

Precious and her team winning the 2016 Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation award

My PhD research focusses on the fault tolerant aspect of the REPOINT switch where I am developing a fault tolerant control strategy by implementing various fault detection algorithms from model-based concepts to be applied to this novel REPOINT switch. This fault tolerant scheme aims to improve the post-fault availability of the system.”

  • What do you find most interesting about your career?

“My career to-date has been very diverse which I credit mainly to my undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I have been able to switch between very different industries and different types of Engineering i.e. engineering in investment banking to Control Engineering research, however applying similar skills of problem solving and logical thinking remains at the centre of the work I do. Engineering for me also allows me to achieve anything I can imagine. I feel if I can imagine it, I can build it and execute it.”

  • What inspired your interest in mentoring and career development for ladies in STEM education and careers?

“Throughout my engineering career, I have been very lucky to have supportive managers who always encouraged me to go the extra mile and showed incredible belief in my potential. Through this, I had many opportunities for growth through attending extensive training programs in my first job after graduation as a Technology Analyst at Goldman Sachs. I was also a part of the Career Development committee for the EMEA Women in Technology at Goldman Sachs. The responsibility for this committee was to organize events to mentorship and equip the women in the division with relevant technical skills. Through this experience, I realized that mentorship and guidance is sometimes the extra step needed to catapult your career and confidence to achieve your goals especially for women. In the UK, women make up 9% of the engineering work force which is a very small number. I also believe that if girls are exposed to female role models in these fields at a younger age they will be inspired to study STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers.”

  • What would you consider has been your greatest achievement as an engineer so far?

“My greatest achievement so far has been receiving a first class degree with the highest overall marks in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree graduating class of 2013 at Loughborough University. It was important to me because as a young Ugandan student away from home and one of the few black female students on my course, I was able to prove to myself that hard work and perseverance is sometimes all that’s required to succeed.”