What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
Monique, Space Systems Engineer.
Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) with First-Class Honours and Bachelor of Science (Physics) with First-Class Honours – Graduated from UWA in November 2012
Masters of Engineering Science in Satellite Systems Engineering – Graduated from UNSW Sydney in June 2017
Where did you grow up?
I grew up mainly in Perth, Western Australia. My older brother was a big influence on my life growing up – he was (and still is) very talented at mathematics and great at explaining things, so he ingrained in me a natural curiosity and strong logic and problem solving skills that set the foundations for my career today. During high school at Santa Maria College, I was fiercely focused on my sporting career – I was a national-level middle-distance runner – and didn’t even realise that I was quite talented in STEM subjects until midway through Year 11. I always had a passion for space growing up but, as I went through high school and in my first years at university, I neglected to make concerted efforts to pursue this passion as a career. My passion for space was reignited during my Physics Honours studies in which I completed a thesis based on analysis of lunar dust experiments deployed on the Moon during the Apollo missions. This work led me to present findings at a lunar conference at NASA Ames in 2014. At this time I had been working as a Gradate Engineer with BHP Billiton Iron Ore for 18 months, and hadn’t yet found my work life satisfying, so I took a leap-of-faith and resigned from a well-paying mining job and enrolled full-time in a Masters of Engineering Science in Satellite Systems Engineering in 2015. From day one of the course, I loved the field and was confident that I’d made the correct decision to chase my dream career.
What does your employer do?
DST is the leading science and technology agency supporting Australia’s Defence and national security interests. DST conducts research into future and emerging technologies, provides support to Defence operations, and gives smart buyer advice for the purchase of Defence platforms. What are your areas of responsibility?
As a Space Systems Engineer, I am responsible for various aspects of satellite and ground station design, integration, testing and operations. With a background in Mechanical Engineering, in this role I focus on the subsystems and tasks which have a mechanical or structural characteristic – such as thermal design, vibration and shock analysis, and attitude determination and control systems.
Can you describe a typical work day?
Currently, our team is operating the second DST satellite in space, Buccaneer, so our days are typically operations-focused. In the morning we convene for a quick “stand-up” meeting to discuss the events of the previous day and the plan for the current day. We then undertake any operations analysis required to assess the current health and performance of the satellite, and to determine what this means in terms of pursuing commissioning or mission objectives. There are also sometimes ground station maintenance and improvement activities to be completed to ensure our ground segment performs more effectively. The satellite passes over our ground station once or twice each afternoon, so our afternoons are often spent creating mission plans to send commands to the satellite and sending these to the satellite during the passes.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study?
Study a field of engineering that interests you – it doesn’t have to be aerospace engineering or space/satellite engineering straight up. This way you will both broaden your knowledge and leave your options open to potential alternative careers should you either lose interest in a career in space or be unsuccessful in moving into the industry straight away after you finish your studies. During your undergraduate studies, you should actively pursue networking and internship opportunities in the space industry. Summer Vacation Programs are an excellent way to do this, plus they are a good money earner while you are at university! Following your engineering studies, you have nothing to lose in trying to land a job in the space industry – you can always study a Masters in a space-related field part-time while you are working if you wish to undertake postgraduate study. However, if you are unsuccessful in breaking into the space industry at this stage, working in a different industry (optionally, with part-time Masters study) will be greatly beneficial to your future career. Working exposes you to different experiences and provides you with different skills and knowledge, such as interpersonal and presentation skills, which are not as effectively gained from university.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
You have to have passion and genuine interest in the work you do. The same probably goes for succeeding in any career. If you don’t love your job, not only won’t you put in the effort to excel in your career, you also won’t lead a very happy existence! To be a good space systems engineer, you also have to be inquisitive, thorough, and analytical, and be capable of thinking outside-the-box.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love operations analysis – being able to look at real telemetry from our satellite in space and to use my innate problem solving skills to diagnose root causes of issues and to identify ways of overcoming them.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
DST has a great culture of work-life balance, and a lot of scope for moving to different roles within the organisation. Most people at DST are very passionate about their research area, and so tend to stay in particular team for a long time, and are happy to put in overtime when required. I was more than happy to come to work on weekends and in the middle of the night during early operations of our Buccaneer satellite, and I can’t see my attitude changing for future missions.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
I would probably have stayed in my mining job or moved into another industry as a mechanical engineer.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?