Andrew Smyth - Aerospace engineer
1. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always a very curious child, always asking loads of questions. I was also fascinated by flying machines of all sorts: rockets, gliders, planes: you name it, I loved it. My dream job was to become a pilot, I got so excited anytime I stepped on board a plane. Even now, I still grin from ear to ear when the engines throttle up on the runway.
2. Who or what inspired you to become an aerospace engineer?
Oddly enough, engineering wasn’t really on my radar until late on in school. I was still determined to be a pilot but at the time no-one was taking on pilots to train and I needed a backup option. Considering I enjoyed physics and maths and loved finding out how things worked, engineering looked like it would be an interesting thing to study. It turns out, when I was studying, I loved the engineering more than the piloting so I chose to pursue it as a career!
3. Tell us a little bit about your role. What does your typical day involve?
My current role is as a research engineer in the Future Aircraft Concepts team. It’s a job that involves modelling future aircraft, including wacky blended-wing-body concepts and electric aircraft, to help guide the strategy of the company and work out what the future of aviation could look like. No day is the same! I work a lot with research institutions and the EU to look at advanced technologies and run my own simulations to predict the potential benefits of future jet engine technology. It really is working on the cutting edge of what’s possible.
4. What do you love about your job and what would you change?
What I love about my job is that I’m encouraged to question everything; it satisfies the curiosity I have about how the world works. Also, my colleagues are incredibly intelligent and fun people - they really inspire me to push myself and learn more. If I was to change anything, it would be getting to fly on some of the Rolls-Royce powered aircraft I’ve previously worked on. There is a growing list of new aircraft I’ve never set foot on!
5. What qualifications did you take at school/college?
I took 11 GCSEs including Triple Award Science, Maths and Additional Maths. I studied French to AS level only then full A-level for Physics, Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry.
6. Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?
I chose University as I wanted to learn more about the various engineering disciplines and at that stage didn’t know for certain whether I wanted a career in engineering. It was definitely the right choice for me. Although a lot of my colleagues studied at University, it is not required. In fact, a really popular option now is to do a paid internship with a company who will pay for you to do your degree whilst earning money on the job. Rolls-Royce has excellent options available for school-leavers at every stage.
7. What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Working through a problem. A lot of the work in our department is ambiguous and involves loosely defined problems we need to solve. A large part of that is failing quickly, which can be difficult at first. The satisfaction that comes from solving a problem and creating a solution is fantastic. Engineering, ultimately, is about helping people using creativity and science.
8. What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?
That lots of us have artistic and creative sides too! A lot of people imagine engineers to be very numerical and not interested in artistic pursuits. That couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a very diverse workplace where we all have interests outside of engineering. As an example, my last office featured someone who had built a robot-wars winning robot, someone who had toured Spain as a flamenco dancer and a Great British Bake Off contestant…
9. If you could give one piece of advice to a young person who is considering becoming an engineer, what would it be?
Keep asking questions and talk to people who do the job. There are some fantastic online resources now that have case studies of all the types of engineering you can do and there are great competitions to enter like FIRST® LEGO® League, the Rolls-Royce Science Prize and many others!
10. What do your friends/family think about your job?
A lot of my friends perhaps had misconceptions about what an engineer does before I started it as a job. They’re proud of the job I do but, more importantly, they’re delighted that I’m working somewhere where I’m happy and motivated.
11. Do you have any hobbies that you like to do to relax?
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades! I regularly sing with a chamber choir, I play the flute and I love to ski. I’ve previously been involved in directing an amateur production of a musical too. Oh, and I bake a fair amount!
12. Would you say that you had a good work/life balance?
Absolutely! I have recently moved to flexi-hours to work 4 days a week which has given me an extra day to follow up on opportunities that have come after Bake Off. I’d love to present an engineering program on TV (featuring baking, who knows) so I’m able to dedicate more time to this whilst still having plenty of free time.
13. What would it surprise people to know about you?
I have a crippling phobia of wasps!
14. What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future?
Changing how we travel around the world, making it more environmentally friendly.
15. What excites you most about engineering?
Engineering helps people around the world. It’s that creativity and endless possibilities that excite me.
16. What should no engineer leave home without?
A curious mind.