Questions about your career and its development
What is your name?
Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
I am a Principal Research Engineer at Collins Aerospace. More specifically, I work in the Autonomous
Systems group within the Applied Research and Technology organization in Cork.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes, the job provides a good work-life balance through flexible workday arrangements and healthy
Questions about your current Job
How did you go about getting your current job?
I was finishing my PhD and I wanted to keep doing research in the aerospace domain. During a
conference in the US I met an HR representative from United Technologies Research Centre (former
name of my organization) who gave me information about the company and about the open positions
in Europe fitting with my CV. A few months later I applied and started the interview process, which
consisted of a phone screening followed by a day of interviews where I had two technical interviews,
one interview with the local HR representative, and a presentation to the office about my research
Describe a typical day
During a typical day I usually arrive in the office and have the first of many coffees with my
colleagues. Then, I start the day looking at the emails and at my calendar to check if there are
important meetings I might have forgotten about. Once I have completed these “checks”, I devote
my working hours to the technical work.
Depending on the status of the project to which I am assigned, there are different activities to be
performed. If a project just started, we usually have brainstorming sessions with the project team
members to sketch out ideas, or down-select and improve previous ideas. If an idea has already
been selected and defined, then we need to test it. This can be done through simulations or by
experimental testing in the lab. Normally, I write simulation code in MATLAB / Simulink or in
Modelica for Dymola. Along with the simulation software development, there is the analysis of the
results obtained. Usually, this is an activity performed together with the team since the findings
and insights obtained are used for planning the next project steps and for assessing the feasibility
of the concept, i.e., the possibility that one day it can become an aircraft system.
Lunch is another important moment of the day. We have a large canteen where you can meet
colleagues from other groups and spend the launch break with them. Conversations at the table are
always different and since we are an extremely international team, you get to know other people
cultures and sometimes try some traditional food. Sometimes you can also discuss new ideas, which
can lead to collaboration projects between different groups. In addition, in the canteen we have a
fantastic foosball table where we have very intense matches (sometimes part of office-wide
tournaments) which help you cleaning your mind before going back to work.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Doing research! This can be solving a problem from one of our many business units or refining an
idea we got while working on a project. You usually start from a blank sheet of paper where you
begin to draw mathematical formulas, system diagrams, etc. The idea is refined and then
implemented through a proof of concept, which can be software or a simulation, and if it meets
the expectations, it goes to the next stages for further improvement and more serious testing which
can include the use of aviation-specific hardware and (when the idea is really good) flight testing.
If all these tests are passed and the many internal reviews are successful, the idea is passed on to
a business unit that transforms it into a product that will one day fly in an aircraft or a satellite.
Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
Unfortunately, given the types of technologies we work with and the different types of
collaborations we have (between sites around the world or with outside companies and universities),
there is a certain amount of paperwork that needs to be done to comply with EU regulations and
company policies. Furthermore, some “PowerPoint engineering” is required to present ideas,
results, or for the many interactions needed for describing your idea and show that it works. Time
that you would rather spend on your ideas!
Questions about education and training
What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, a master’s degree in Robotics and Automation
and a PhD in Information Engineering, all from the University of Pisa in Italy. During my
undergraduate studies, there was a course on Automation and the professor was an aerospace
engineer, so all the examples were about controlling aircraft or spacecraft. I have always been a
fan of “things that fly” and this course was a trigger for me: it became clear that I wanted to work
in the aerospace field. The professor ultimately became my PhD supervisor, and with him I was able
to get in contact with the European Space Agency and do a cool project on rendezvous in lunar
orbits for the future lunar gateway. During the PhD, I really learned how to do research and I
realized that it was another fundamental component of what I wanted from my future job. So, by
the end of the PhD, I knew what I wanted to do: research in aerospace.
Questions about yourself
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Getting a project for my PhD thesis with the European Space Agency was probably one of the most
rewarding events. When I started my PhD, there was no prior work on space applications, but both
my supervisor and I wanted to start something. So together we started reaching out to people in
ESA, thanks to some friends of my supervisor who worked there, and we were able to visit the ESTEC
in The Netherlands and present what we wanted to do. Thanks to that, we received a small grant
for a research project on the dynamics and control of rendezvous in lunar orbits, which gave me
plenty of material for my PhD thesis. The project had several continuations and the funds received
were used to support new students after I left and to keep the collaboration with ESA alive.
What is your dream job?
I think what I am doing is my dream job, or at least as close to it as I can get. Of course, there are
a lot of activities related to my job and the projects we deal with that require paperwork to ensure
everything we do is in compliance with the company’s policies and the EU regulation for technology
control, which is extremely important. All necessary steps to do that sometimes keeps you away
from the fun. But the core of my job, i.e., doing research, thinking about the next aerospace
technologies, implementing and testing innovative solutions, occupies most of my time, and this is
everything I wanted to do and dreamed about when I was finishing my PhD studies.
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.
To someone thinking about doing research with a company like mine, I would suggest that they
pursue a PhD and not specialize too deeply in a specific and narrow subject (unless they find
something they are really passionate about!). Indeed, during my career at Collins I have worked on
many different types of aircraft systems (environmental control systems, braking systems,
navigation systems, etc.) and the education I received during my PhD allowed me to move more
easily from one to another. Of course, there is always a learning curve you have to climb (e.g.,
before joining this company I did not know anything about thermomechanical systems), but it gets
easier and easier and you actually gain knowledge that can be used in other domains or projects,
opening up new perspectives that an expert of that system might not see.
I would also suggest finding and applying for internship, even if it is not 100% related to the topic
you want to work on in the future. These opportunities help you learn how companies work, you
get to know people you might otherwise never meet, and provide useful working experience, which
is always a plus on a CV.