Career Profiles: Orla Punch

1. What is your name?
Orla Punch

2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title
Architect and designer – current masters student at the International Space University, Strasbourg.

3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
The main milestone this far has been deciding to base my final year architectural thesis project on Mars and from a ripple effect of that decision then receiving a scholarship from the European Space Agency to carry out a masters with the International Space University.

4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
In terms of people and within my first-hand experience I would say without doubt some of my close friends at architecture school were quite influential in motivating me albeit we may have had different views and interests. In the broader scale of things and within the field of architecture design and space; Jan Kaplicky and the work of Future Systems or experimental firms like Archigram.

5. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Well at this moment in time I am still furthering my education in order to create a role for myself between architecture and the space industry – I think if I can carry out design work where these two passions merge I’ll certainly have a lifestyle I’m happy with.


Questions about your current Job

6. How did you go about getting your current job? (still a student technically – masters )
I partook in the International Space University’s Space Studies Program in Ohio University and Nasa Glenn Research Centre this past summer and from that I applied to their master’s program and received a scholarship from the European Space Agency.

7. Describe a typical day?
I’m not quite sure yet as the masters program does not begin until early November this year however if it is anything like the space studies program or even architecture school – days will be very intense and jam packed – but rewarding all the same.

8. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
The masters program consists of various projects with one main personal project/thesis – I aim to focus this on design from the human outward both inclusive of the psychological and physiological effects of living within contained environments and analog missions – such will be the case with human space flight.

9. What are the main challenges?
I will be touching off subjects that I have never really looked upon or studied previously – orbital mechanics for one example – these will definitely be challenging.

10. What’s cool?
With the masters program there is an opportunity to intern at Nasa or Esa

11. What’s not so cool?
I can’t really think of an answer yet…I guess another year of education after 5 years of architecture!

12. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Design & design thinking. I know the importance of good of design from a human scale in light of any future human space exploration


Questions about education and training

13. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Surprisingly enough the only design related subject I chose for my leaving certificate was Art. The other two choice subjects were Biology and Home Economics. I remember being told in 6th year that I could never be an architect as I did not take Physics at a Leaving Cert level – well that’s something that has certainly had no bearing on my career path this far.

14. What is your education to date?
B.Architecture from the University of Limerick.
Current MSc. Space Studies with the International Space University.

15. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Similar to the previous question in relation to career milestones – a pivotal moment in my education that has gotten me to the point I’m at right now would have been my final year thesis project in architecture school at UL. I chose to base my thesis on creating on architecture on Mars using only indigenous materials combined with Earth technology – this path has certainly been the deciding factor in bringing me to the point where I am at today and has opened many opportunities for me that I had never even dreamt of.

16. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
In order to merge architecture with the space industry I am undertaking a MSc in space studies with the International Space University and I aim to focus on design.


Questions about yourself

17. What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
I’ve really just begun my career as an architect, but being awarded best thesis in my architecture school (S.A.U.L) and being awarded the presidents gold medal from the University of Limerick have been the most rewarding events this far. Also receiving a scholarships from the European Space Agency was also something I had never even dreamt of happening.

18. What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I think I can be fairly ambitious (although sometimes this can be a little detrimenta!) and I can be quite driven. I also love communicating with people and working within a team which I think is important as an architect

19. What is your dream job?
Definitely working as a architect in the field of space but I also want my designs to be relevant here on Earth with terrestrial architecture and with regard to any design that is human centered regardless of its location! I think the psychological study of how humans interact within a confined space is something that is useful and beneficial here on Earth as well as in space. And I also think the role of an architect is very important in the future and design of manned space exploration. Ideally – if we are talking about dreams here – I would love to be involved in the design of first 3d printed structures on the Moon or Mars – which is what I based my thesis project on.


Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

20. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
From the perspective of a career in the space industry in relation to design and architecture – just keep at it – I’ve been told a few times that “space architecture” is not quite a priority just yet.. but yet here I am, and if I had fully listened to that kind of scepticism in the past I would never have done a thesis on Mars hence I would never even be answering these questions.. I firmly believe that there are many different paths you can take in order to get to the same point. Just have an end goal in mind, and keep at it.

21. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Creativity, enthusiasm (its very much a team player career) and determination

22. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

In terms of architecture – taking a year out between 3rd and 4th year to get an intern position with a design firm is something I would strongly advise – or even to do this on summer breaks from University. In terms of space architecture or even the space industry as a whole, from my personal experience my advice would be to first apply to be a participant at the International Space University’s Space Studies Program – its an annual 9 week program for graduates and professionals covering all aspects of the industry and it genuinely changed my outlook for the better – yes I am an architect but yes I can also work in the space industry – its not just for rocket scientists or engineers, and its certainly not elitest or beyond the realm of what just might be possible.