Career Profiles: Niamh McDermott

What is your name? 

Niamh Mc Dermott

Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

I work at Réaltra Space Systems Engineering as a Systems Engineer

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

Yes, My job is a perfect mix of research, product development, and experimentation but also allows for time to socialise with colleagues and explore new ideas.  


Questions about your current Job 

How did you go about getting your current job?
I undertook a physics internship in NUIG for the summer of 2019 which introduced me to optical engineering for telescopes and during that time I learned to use to optical software that wasn’t taught on the undergraduate course. I interviewed for a graduate optical engineering role in the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Lab site in Oxford and managed to get the job before graduating college.  

The job at RAL introduced me to working for space from an industry perspective as I was designing optics for satellites, and after 18 months I decided to come back to Ireland. 

I applied to the advertisement on the Réaltra website looking for a space systems engineer and luckily, I got it! 

Describe a typical day.
A typical day for me is going into work and checking my emails. Then, after that, I look to my diary as I like to organise my week the Friday before so that I can plan and get things done logically. Depending on the stage of the project my days are very different. If we are in the design and research phase, I write a lot of documents outlining component choices, future testing etc. and a lot of emails to potential suppliers and partners. 

If we are in the development stage however much of my time is taken up with testing our product and writing up the test results.  

I also like to make time checking in on my colleagues and seeing what they are working on, it’s good to take a break from your main project! 

What’s the coolest part of your job?
The coolest part of my job is I get to say I work in the Space industry. I have never had a strong desire to be an astronaut but I always loved the idea of working on a big telescope or using satellites to take pictures of stars. 

I love being able to send my parents news articles of space missions I have done work for and help them to understand how cool space actually is.  

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

I would like to say documentation, but sometimes being able to sit down and write a big document can be therapeutic so I’m going to say my actual dislike is scheduling all the parts of the projects.

It can be really difficult to properly plan for a project when you have to take into account design time, manufacturing time, gathering all the components etc. And I find it frustrating when your project schedule slips because of situations that are out of your hands. You can never think of all the things that might cause a schedule to slip like components taking more time than usual to arrive or testing facilities that are booked up for months in advance.  

You also have to take into account the money cost of time slipping away and the possibility of not being able to make a deadline for your customer. This can cause a lot of stress on a team and a project so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it. 


Questions about education and training 

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

My leaving cert choices were physics, chemistry and history. Physics and chemistry because I needed two science subjects with maths and history because I loved it.  

I decided to do a BSc in Physics with Astrophysics in NUIG because I knew I wanted to work with space. At the time I didn’t realise other pathways into space other than astrophysics but I learnt through my time there that the extra skills you pick up along the way are (sometimes) more important than the topics of the lectures. Having said that I found it to be a very rewarding course and I really enjoyed my time there. 


Questions about yourself 

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
My career so far has been short so I have no major milestones or projects to put here. But I can say that being able to move back to Ireland and work in a company that specialises in space technology is a dream come true. It’s wonderful to know that the products we make have an impact on the space industry and put Ireland on the map for space technology. 

What is your dream job?
My dream job is to be a telescope operator.


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.
Having a degree is a good starting point for getting into space. However, working in space requires many different disciplines and skills. Internships in companies or colleges that work in areas you find interesting will be crucial for letting you develop the skills you’ll need. 

Personally, being motivated and willing to learn everyday on the job are also crucial. If you’re somebody who likes to explore new ideas and you’re not afraid of the unknown then a career in space could be for you.