In the Valley of the Roses, where Anna Encheva grew up, picking begins at 4 a.m. and ends at sunrise. The particular climate in the valley surrounding Kazanlak, in the very centre of Bulgaria, creates ideal conditions for one of the largest rose gardens in the world, resulting in roses whose high oil content has been prized by the perfume industry in France since the 17th century.
For Anna, rose picking was one of the jobs that helped her to get through her university studies. She was 14 when Bulgaria transitioned to democracy. After eight years of training in Russian, she joined the new English section in high school, and made plans to study international law in England. Her plans fell through when—despite a full scholarship—it became clear that the extra costs such as board and lodging would have placed too high a strain on her family. "Prices in Bulgaria are high compared to the average wage, and our standard of living is much lower than most countries in Europe," explains Anna. "Older people in Bulgaria are surviving on pensions of approximately 50 euros a month."
Anna turned to engineering at the Technical University of Sofia and went on to excel, often the only girl in classrooms full of boys. She earned a BS in Industrial Engineering followed by two Master's degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science, perfecting her English and a fourth language, German, in the process. She worked for two years as a Technical Advisor at Festo Bulgaria in charge of the largest customers—a "people and sales" job she loved—before moving to Germany to work at the Max Planck Institute in Garching as an engineer/scientist in the Technology Department. Nearly five years there introduced her to fusion, and influenced the subject of her doctoral thesis: Thermo-Hydraulic Study of a Threaded Turbulent Promoter.
The Valley of the Roses in Kazanlak, Bulgaria.
In 2005, Anna joined an ITER support project on magnetic diagnostics being carried out at the Plasma Physics Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her work there led naturally to joining ITER in November 2007, just as the newly formed organization began recruiting. Anna works as an engineer in the Diagnostics Division, where she is responsible for the integration and interfaces of the in-vessel diagnostic systems at ITER.
For someone who is only 34, Anna has accomplished a great deal. "I've gone from degree to degree and position to position without ever taking a break, and sometimes doing two things at once," admits Anna. Anna credits her family and "her genes" for her high level of energy and ambition. Her father is an associate professor, has a PhD in mechanical engineering and owns a business in Bulgaria; her grandfather directed a scientific institute in Kazanlak; and her mother is a lawyer and a mountain climber who recently scaled the 5,600 metre Mount Elbrus in Russia—the highest peak in Europe. Outside of work, Anna enjoys karate, flamenco, tennis and ... is currently the only female member of the ITER rugby team. "So far, I've been unsuccessful convincing other female colleagues!" She makes time for her family too; Anna and her husband are raising a ten month-old son, Miroslav, whose name means "peace" and "glory."
9 September 2009, Fem'Energia winners and sponsors (Anna is at far right)
A few months back, Anna noticed a poster in the CEA cafeteria seeking candidates for the 2009 Fem'Energia awards. Sponsored by EDF (Electricité de France), WIN (Women in Nuclear) France and the European foundation Energy for Tomorrow, Fem'Energia seeks to recognize the accomplishments of women in scientific and technical careers. Anna managed to pull her application together in two days, and couldn't have been more surprised—and moved—when she received a telephone call from a representative of EDF in July, announcing that she was one of the winners. An award category had been created especially for her, recognizing her unique blend of scientific, engineering and managerial experience. At the ceremony at EDF Headquarters last week in Paris, the President of WIN, Madame D.Mouillot, announced to the assembly: "A special honour award has been established and presented to Anna Encheva, for her remarkable capabilities, professional career, and exceptional personality."