This article covers an interview with Galeazzo Prestini, a Stress and Structures Engineer at Reaction Engines. It contains valuable advice on deciding if the decision to study engineering is right for you.
Growing up in Italy, Galeazzo was not specifically interested about planes or space as a young child. In school he was good at science and maths, and knew he wanted to study either physics or a type of engineering. He decided to study engineering as he thought this would give him the opportunity to be close to a tangible project. At the time he thought Physics would not have given him such a direct opportunity. It wasn’t until he was around 17 that he realised that he wanted to study Aerospace Engineering (AE) specifically.
He chose aerospace as it is such a cutting-edge field of engineering and it gives the opportunity to work on ground-breaking new technology. His other passion is motorsports, there is a good crossover between it and AE. He thought that this would allow him to have conversations about aerospace and motorsports whilst deepening his knowledge in those areas. For a student in the UK, he recommends visiting the RAF museum in Cosford as it will give you a chance to see what is possible with AE, right in front of you.
He had the ambition to study at the best possible faculty and he decided on the Politecnico di Milano as he believed that it was the best place in Italy to study AE. He wanted to ensure that he had a broad knowledge, rather than knowing only one particular topic. This would allow him to connect with lots of people from different backgrounds, and not be restricted to his niche. Upon starting at Politecnico di Milano, he found his studies to be intense right from the beginning, yet his interest in AE continued to grow.
He did an internship within the structural design and analysis branch of an engineering consultancy company, the topic of which he wrote his BSc thesis on. He enjoyed this because of the real world skills and experience gained, and finds industrial placements to be extremely valuable. Galeazzo’s favourite part of his Bachelor’s was the project work. The project that stood out to him was on a structures course. He was instructed to take an existing piece of aerospace structure, model it in a Finite Elements analysis package, and then run structural analyses on the model. Looking back on it, it was a fairly simple project, but at the time it was very interesting and exciting.
At the end of his BSc, Galeazzo started another internship which lasted for around eight months. This was at a small helicopter company called Famà Helicopters who make ultralight helicopters. He took part in a wide range of tasks and enjoyed the experience.
He began his MSc in AE soon after the internship. Because he found the structures elements of his Bachelor’s course as well as his internships so interesting, Galeazzo chose to study Aerospace Structures. He enjoys this as it is a particularly challenging field – you must ensure to keep the structure light whilst still meeting the strict constraints on properties such as strength, stiffness, etc. As he was completing his MSc, he went through one more work experience placement and two jobs, so he was studying for university after work and during the weekends. Work took him to Austria, Germany, and England.
Whilst living in these countries he had to fly back to Milan periodically to sit exams, and get leave from work to do so. This period of Galeazzo’s life was very busy, and due to the amount of work he was completing he had to treasure the small amount of time he had left for other activities. It took him a long time to complete his MSc, as he was essentially doing it part-time. He would not recommend working and studying at the same time to people who are easily distracted and who haven’t got a steely commitment.
Although Galeazzo isn’t currently chartered with a major UK body none of his UK employers had an issue with this. He thinks it helps that his degree is from a well recognised and respected AE faculty worldwide. He is now considering chartered status with the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS). His current job has a strong technical R&D component. It allows him to apply everything he learnt from university, all the way from simple first year concepts to advanced Master’s work. Although lots of people will say that they hardly apply any of what they learnt at university, Galeazzo says that if you are willing to seek out an enriching job, this will allow you to use your knowledge. The main reason for his enjoyment of his current work is due to the pioneering nature of it. This is the reason he chose to study AE, so it is great to have a job that fulfilled his expectations as a 17 year old.
AE is a very exciting field for Galeazzo also due to the space race being back on. A poignant statement that stuck with Galeazzo was from the ESA Director General, Jan Wörner. As Galeazzo remembers the words, this was “We are going to space not because we want to leave [Earth], but because we want to stay.” This resonated with him as it sums up the spirit of respect in union with the endeavour for knowledge and exploration he deems important.
Galeazzo has one main piece of advice for a student considering if aerospace is right for them. You should think to yourself:
‘In ten or fifteen years time when I see an aircraft or a space launcher, do I want to be an amateur who has some knowledge of that field, or do I want to be a professional who is fully involved in this thanks to their job?’