How to balance entrepreneurship with your studies — Ilham Said

Ilham Said is a Master’s student at the University of Bristol, studying Aerospace Engineering (AE). In this article you’ll find out more about Ilham’s experience of AE, as well as what it’s like for her to be a full-time student at the same time as running her business, Engineer 2 Engineer.

When Ilham was in school she studied six subjects on an American diploma scheme: Maths, Physics, Astronomy, Computer Science, Geography and History. At this time she hadn’t really decided what she wanted to study at university, but knew that she really enjoyed physics and maths so focussed more on them. When Ilham realised that she was always asked to help fix things around the house, she realised engineering might be right for her. She began watching documentaries and films on events like the Apollo missions, and her interest in aerospace slowly grew. Looking back on it, she’s glad aerospace is her field because of how it takes aspects of other fields such as mechanical and civil engineering, and puts them in its own unique context – flight! She’s also of the belief that the future is all about aircraft, spacecraft and launchers.

Upon starting at university in Bristol, Ilham found the jump to be challenging. She didn’t know what books and journals to read, who to ask for guidance, or where to go with questions. Her critical thinking, writing, and engineering judgement all needed improving. There was much less guidance at university than she had been used to, which forced Ilham to take a lot of responsibility very quickly and even made her feel uncomfortable at times. With time and practise however, things began to get better and she settled in to the more independent nature of student life. As she has progressed through the years, the work she’s been doing has steadily got harder and harder, but her skills have developed to allow her to keep on top of it.

A talk Ilham attended given by the UK Space Agency

Ilham is a massive believer of work-life balance. In her first year at Bristol she joined lots of random societies including kickboxing and even tea-drinking! She found it very important to do things which had absolutely nothing to do with her course, otherwise it would slowly have become all she spent her time on. Some of Ilham’s other hobbies include writing, reading, and even learning new languages – Japanese at the minute! One of her favourite things to do is go to conferences and listen to people speak. She’s been to many of these overseas, and often finds herself working on planes on the way there.

So far, her favourite part of the course has been the group projects. At Bristol there are plenty of opportunities to take part in them and they’ve ranged from a balsa biplane, a composite wing, a 1m aluminium wing torque box, and even a UAV project for Leonardo in her fourth year. She finds that she really enjoys taking a leadership-focussed role on the group, which allows her to oversee the whole project whilst still getting right in with the detail when required.

For people interested in the student teams that are found at lots of universities, Bristol provides access to Formula Student, amongst a few others. As well as these, Ilham found that lots of the large companies put on competitions which you can select and enter your own team for, like Airbus’ Sloshing Rocket Workshop which she took part in with a team of others. Ilham feels that Bristol has provided her with great network connections and interpersonal skills, but she enjoys applying to summer schools and workshops independently in order to demonstrate and sharpen her theoretical skills. She’s been to events all around the world, from ESA workshops in Belgium, design tasks at the FFG in Austria, and even as far as to Beijing to take part in activities around electrical vehicle design.

Ilham giving a presentation at the Airbus Airnovation Summer School

Her least favourite part of the course has been the seemingly unnecessary memorisation that is required. For Ilham’s first year exams, there were probably 50 formulae she had to remember off by heart, and all of these would just be looked up in a handbook in real practice!

In ten years time, Ilham would like to be working in a combination of engineering and entrepreneurship. She wants to be making a contribution in the world – helping increase our standards of living whilst protecting the environment. The entrepreneurial streak in Ilham led her to start Engineer2Engineer, a company designed to help increase communication between engineering students and their lecturers. This has grown rapidly, and now has over 500 users. Ilham has been running this company whilst studying for her exams, taking part in conferences, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

A major tip for somebody in school with big ambitions is to be consistent. You must always put in the work. However, she finds that stopping procrastination as soon as she can feel it coming on is even more important. As soon as she stops feeling like doing her university work, she’ll work on E2E. On the rare occasion that she doesn’t feel like working on her business, she’ll exercise, read or cook. There really is no point in wasting time doing absolutely nothing.

Ilham’s work life balance is something that she feels is different about her from a lot of her peers. The engineering faculty building can often be a place full of people complaining about their workload – engineering is a heavy subject! – but if you put the time spent moaning in to actually doing something, Ilham thinks you’ll get an amount done that will amaze you.

Ilham and the rest of her team at GGCS in 2019

Finally, when it comes to university applications, Ilham’s main tip is to do things not just because they look good on paper, but because you genuinely enjoy them. Admissions tutors will pick up on things in your personal statement if you aren’t honest about them, and you will get caught out in interviews. If you show your genuine interest and passion, they will notice it – a lot of things can be used to show your passion for engineering, even if you don’t realise it at first.

If you’re reading this as an engineering student at university, or are about to become one, make sure to look at eng2eng.net as the work being done there could help transform the way you study!

I’d just like to thank Ilham for giving her advice to the community of readers on AeroStudent. A great way to show your support of the work being done on the site and your appreciation for Ilham’s time is to share this post with somebody who would benefit from reading it – every time you do this it helps us to keep creating more content with valuable insights like Ilham has provided!