Case study

Graduate systems engineer — Robin Saaristo

Robin studied for a MEng in Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College London. He now works for Martin-Baker, an ejection seat manufacturer

How did you get your job?

I was lucky enough to secure a job during the final year of my MEng degree. I first met the company I work for at a career fair at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), which connected me with people who helped me to apply for, and get, a summer internship in design engineering. During the following summer, I returned for another internship in systems engineering. Towards the end of this second internship my future with the company was discussed, and it was agreed that I would do my final-year project in collaboration with the organisation. Shortly after starting the project, I received the full-time job offer that I had been hoping for.

What's a typical day like as a systems engineer?

My time is split between my three main responsibilities. If a test of the seat I am working on is scheduled in the near future, I do a prediction of the seat performance during the test. This allows our models to be tested and verified. If a test has recently happened, I match the output of the prediction to what really happened by tweaking the performance parameters, which allows the computational model to be improved further. Alternatively, I work on translating a customer specification to requirements that can be verified through testing and evaluation, which will prove the performance and capabilities of the product to the customer. This is a core task in systems engineering, which is key to all aerospace companies today. Naturally, the results and conclusions of this analysis need to be conveyed to the right people. Therefore, a certain amount of my time is spent writing and peer-reviewing technical reports, often on seat performance, but also on other subjects.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy being able to work on different parts of the product lifecycle, from the design and development of new seats, through the testing phase that verifies performance, to the maintenance and upgrading of seats currently in service.

Also, being able to work on, and be a part of, many different aircraft programmes is a source of pride in my job. After all, every fighter aircraft needs this integral system, and Martin-Baker supplies the majority of ejection seats globally.

What are the challenges?

I occasionally get stuck on some analysis I need to carry out, as will any engineer, but at least I have colleagues who can offer advice, and often have some very involved discussions on how to best proceed.

There are times when things can get rather stressful. For example, when test dates are approaching or when an air force needs a swift answer to a query. However, this makes for a varied workload, as day-to-day tasks are dropped to prioritise urgent matters.

Additionally, the review procedure for documents can take a long time to satisfy all stakeholders. However, it's important that nothing is wrong as the aircrew's lives depend on it.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree is highly relevant in that the knowledge of aerodynamics and propulsion, the basic principles of systems engineering, and the computational methods and general analytical skills I received in my degree are essential for carrying out my role. This was made clear on my first day in the department, as I could recognise everything on the proficiency test from my degree at Imperial College London.

How has your role developed?

My role has been tailored to fit my experience, given the work I did with the company prior to starting my full-time position. As I conducted one internship in design engineering and the other in systems engineering, I first worked on the testing phase of our most recent seat and continued the development of my systems engineering skillset. Further, my final year university project, where I investigated aerodynamic testing of ejection seats, has given me a way into my career ambition of aerodynamic research and development. Martin-Baker is keen to support me in my professional development and my work towards my next goal of becoming a chartered engineer.

How do I get into aerospace engineering?

To get into the field of aerospace engineering, you need to go to university and get a Bachelors or Masters degree in the subject, and preferably some industrial experience (either through a placement year or summer internship). Alternatively, a degree apprenticeship could be a way to gain a lot of industrial experience, while also getting paid for completing a degree.

To get a job in the field, I would advice people to attend careers fairs in their local area and utilise networking opportunities (such as joining the RAeS and attending their events), as meeting company representatives face-to-face can be helpful.

Finally, to get a job with Martin-Baker, look at their careers site. I would advise anyone applying (to the company and in the industry in general) to take a genuine interest in the products you'll be working with and show your enthusiasm for the field.

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