Career Profiles: Eibhlin Laffan Downes

What is your name?

Eibhlin Laffan Downes


Company Information

Name of Company/Organisation you work for:

Réaltra Space Systems Engineering

What is your position in the company/organisation?

Systems Engineer

Tell us a little about the company you work for and how it’s involved in the space sector

Réaltra is a systems engineering company in Dublin.


Questions about your current Job

How did you get your current job?

I was always interested in space, science and STEM subjects. I did my undergraduate degree in Physics Technology in TU Dublin and then a master’s in Space Science and Technology in UCD. I did two projects in radio astronomy during my undergrad, including an Erasmus placement in the Netherlands and my thesis. Later in my master’s, I did a placement with ispace’s AIT (Assembly, Integration and Testing) team during their environmental campaign of the Hakuto-R M1 lander in Germany.


Réaltra gave a career talk to my master’s course. I knew I didn’t want to work in academia but I still wanted to have a career in the space industry. When I finished my master’s dissertation, I sent the company an email asking if they had any positions available and I got the job. 

Describe a typical day.

I start my day by reviewing my notes from yesterday and checking my email to see what needs to be prioritised first today. I work on a few projects so I usually have a few short meetings (per week) where I meet with the team and we discuss our work and the next steps for the project. My particular job responsibilities can range from documentation, data analysis, technical drawing and testing. Having that variety is a huge plus of my job.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes, I get to do interesting work in a field that I have wanted to work in since I was a child. I work in a small team so my responsibilities can be varied week-to-week, which is great for experience and keeps my job interesting.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

Knowing that the projects that I work on will be launched into space. It is a cool thing to be able to say!  

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

Documentation and vigorously keeping track of documentation can take a lot of time and be a little tedious sometimes. The deadlines that we have to meet can also be stressful.


Questions about education and training

What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

My leaving certificate choices were physics, applied maths, geography and accounting. So I was heavy into more maths-based and science subjects. Doing applied maths was difficult at the time, but it did help me grasp physics concepts quicker at university.

My undergraduate degree was Physics Technology in TU Dublin and I did a Master’s Degree in Space Science and Technology. Both courses had internships so I got to try a more research-based placement and a more industry-based placement. They helped me realise that I wanted to work in the space industry and that I would prefer working in industry to academia.

What non-technical skills are necessary for your job?

Good interpersonal skills are essential. Almost nothing that I do is done completely solo, whether that be writing and reviewing documentation, writing and using code or working with people from other companies and organisations for testing/ training/ project organisation etc.

How did you develop those 21st Century Skills?

Having hobbies and other passions such as sport. If you can get used to working with others and dealing with stressful situations in a less serious environment, it will translate into other areas and make you a more interesting person.


Questions about yourself

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

For my master’s internship I helped test a lunar lander. Last December, I got to watch it launch over a livestream. Getting to spend a semester in both the Netherlands and Germany was also a rewarding experience.

What is your dream job?
I’m not sure yet! I know my next career goal is to see an instrument that I have worked on launched. I guess I will see what is next after that.


Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.

It is important to show that you are more than just a person with the correct piece of paper. If you want to work in space, you should consider internships and projects. Having a strong academic background is important but every year thousands of students graduate college and you have to make yourself look more employable than them. Internships and projects show that you have a practical grasp of your field and can work with others. Having some hobbies on your CV is also crucial to help you stand out and show that you are someone that people will want to work with.