Journey in The Aerospace Industry – Advice for Students – Guest Post

11 Ways to Practice Self-Care as a College Student Guest Post
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Lauren Savage

aerospace engineer at Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs

Lauren is  a Master of Science candidate at Johns Hopkins University’s Space Systems Engineering program. Having often been the only woman in the room for the past half decade, she is just as passionate about engineering and space exploration as she is about encouraging women to pursue careers in aerospace. Even as a recent university graduate, she has had an extensive background in both commercial and military aerospace engineering. Lauren worked in this industry throughout the entirety of her degree–starting when she was 19 years old at American Airlines Engineering and later, F-35 Systems Engineering at Lockheed Martin, where she stayed full-time until graduation. She has also performed comprehensive research in the future of hypersonic technologies, specifically focusing on hypersonic air-breathing engine propulsion and hypersonic vehicle conceptual design forecasting. Lauren has also been a pilot for six years, and she plans on continuing to build hours in order to have a more robust astronaut application in the near future. Lauren aspires to complete a PhD in aerospace engineering while continuing to work in industry, to become a prominent technical leader in the aerospace industry, to inspire and encourage more women to work alongside her, and one day explore the final frontier (space) herself.

The start of my journey

My ultimate dream is to become an astronaut and to contribute significantly to the aerospace industry—specifically in supporting human life in space. My aerospace journey starts far before my university education. My dream had always been to become an astronaut by going to the US Air Force Academy, becoming an engineer and a test pilot, and eventually going to work for NASA. I was accepted to the Academy, but had a medical issue come up that landed me in the hospital days before I was supposed to move to Colorado in 2015. I was able to get into my local university with a later acceptance, but I spent the first two years feeling severely out of place and quite depressed (although I had not realized it at the time) because I felt that where I was in life was not part of my original plan. I think it is important to include this part of my journey, because it really has not been linear for me—as is the case for most people—and I want to be open about the struggles I faced and the ways they affected me. I spent the first semester of my undergraduate education as a geology major, because I had been struggling to decide between aerospace engineering and planetary geology—and since my life was upside down at that point, I figured I should try something new. I really enjoyed geology, but it did not challenge me, and it felt like something was still missing in my life. I remember taking a walk into the engineering building one afternoon to meet with an advisor and see the curriculum—that was when I realized I found what I had been missing! The Aerospace Engineering curriculum reflected the career I wanted to pursue. In the spring of 2016, I was enrolled as a pre-professional Aerospace Engineering student. I started university with no prior credits, so I was at the very beginning. I didn’t even pass the pre-calculus test the first time I took it. I really struggled in the calculus, chemistry, and physics-heavy courses I took those first two years. I was dealing with decreased motivation, and an inability to remember what I was studying clearly, something that had never happened to me before. It was as if my memory was no longer working properly. I was also riddled with anxiety that left me physically ill throughout the day of classes, and with what felt like a brick in my head during exams which prevented me from remembering anything. I failed three classes. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I finally got help from the university’s psychology & psychiatry department. This changed everything for me, and it was the reason my grades during my last two years were mostly A’s.

Try and Try Until You Succeed

Every single day of my undergrad, I didn’t think I would graduate as an engineer. Studying engineering and mathematical concepts seemed to come easier to classmates than others, but I was not one of those. In the fall of 2016, I attended a career fair at my university. I was late and had to park over a mile away—it was in the heat of a Texas September, so by the time I got over to where the fair was hosted, I was dripping sweat. I actually considered not going in because I was just such a mess. But, I kept telling myself that I was going to walk out that day with a job—I could just feel it. So, in I went, where I found the shortest lines at the American Airlines booth. Not even realizing that airlines hired engineers, I spoke to the recruiter who condescendingly informed me that I did not have the required number of university hours to apply—having only 59 instead of 60 hours. I pushed him to take my resume regardless, and I’m so glad I did! A week later, I got a call that they wanted to interview me. I received an offer almost immediately afterwards. I was hesitant to accept this offer because it would mean I would have to work full time and manage classes at the same time or face taking eight months off from classes. I also firmly believed that I would not be able to get another internship offer if I waited another semester, because I knew by December 2016 that my GPA would sink below a 3.0, which is the typical cut-off for internships, co-ops, and jobs. I accepted the job and started full-time in January 2017 as a co-op widebody (the big airplanes) interiors engineer, with my GPA sitting at a 2.8 as I had predicted. I had secured a job, and entered an easier semester, as all the courses I took were online to work around my full-time job schedule.

The joy of being an aerospace engineer

I will never forget my first time seeing a 777-200 in person. I had flown and traveled extensively prior to this experience, but to walk beneath one of these aircraft was something amazing. This was my new job—to upgrade, maintain, fix, and prototype all furniture, emergency equipment, and interior items on the 777-200, 777-300, A330, 767-200/-300, and 757. I was in my element. Having unprecedented access to some of the largest airplanes in the world—capable of carrying more than 270 people—and getting to make changes to them was an incredible experience. I got to travel the world with the flight benefits that came with working for the airline, as well as go on several business trips. Towards the end of my eight months, I started pressing my manager to keep me part-time when I was slated to go back to school in person because I was supporting myself through school and co-op money is very good. I was repeatedly told “no.” I said my goodbyes and went to Mexico for a friend’s wedding after my last day. While I was checking into the resort, I got a text from my former lead engineer telling me to not be late on Monday. They had decided to keep me!

It's all about hard work and patience

I went into the fall semester of 2017 with a far better outlook on both my career and my life. I had gotten to work in the operational side of the engineering world (saw the light at the end of the tunnel), I made good money and started a 401k, my brain got to rest because I took the easier required courses of my degree online—which meant I also recovered my GPA to a 3.0! While the following semesters were better than the others, I still failed another class. I was learning how to balance working in an engineering office—with actual responsibilities—in addition to my full-time engineering courses. I did a semester of research during Spring 2018 (in addition to my job at American Airlines), where I worked with a materials laboratory at my university’s research institute. I helped a doctoral student with literature reviews and did my own independent research in integrating nanotechnology with wearable technology and brain implants. That semester, I drove myself to my personal limit. I was a full-time engineering student working my way through school on top of doing research. I had a breakdown. I dropped the research. Moving forward, I continued to work and study. I wanted to branch out of interiors engineering on the commercial side and move into military aerospace engineering because it was a step in the direction of space engineering. I figured if I could get my hands on a few high-profile programs and high-powered vehicles, that would be the best “stepping stone” to a career in spaceflight. I spent over a year trying to land an internship at Lockheed Martin. I spoke to many recruiters and hiring managers, and it wasn’t until a recruiter agreed to send my info over to their friend for an internship they were having trouble filling (no one wanted it) that I landed the job. After 2.5 years of working at American Airlines, I resigned to go work for Lockheed Martin immediately for the full-time summer internship. Again, I asked them to keep me when I went back to school full-time, and after a month and a half of proving good work, they agreed to keep me until I graduated. It’s important to note that both American Airlines and Lockheed let me work 50%+ remotely as needed, so that I wouldn’t have to commute between classes during the day. Although I was still required to spend around two days a week in the office, I was able to sit down and work in between classes most days, get more work done, and make more money. I spent my last year (5th year) of university aggressively networking across Lockheed Martin for a full-time job. My intern group, F-35 Systems Engineering, offered me a full-time job, but the work didn’t align with what I wanted for my career. Since I would be spending an entire year in that group by the time I graduated, I wanted to try something new. I was offered a flight test engineering position at Pax River, Maryland, but I was unable to relocate. I spent my evenings sending emails across the company, trying to network with managers who led groups I was interested in. I learned how to reach out to my HR business partner to help me find managers, as well as comb through job postings and send out emails questioning future employment opportunities. Finally, one manager agreed to sit down with me and chat about his team—we kept in touch, and a few months later when I hadn’t stumbled upon any other positions, he offered me a job working in future aircraft design! All in the meantime, I was working on my capstone and other classes at university. My capstone focused on reverse-engineering a hypersonic two stage to orbit vehicle from the 1970’s (only the first stage) as a point-to-point high speed vehicle. I was the propulsion system lead, and I learned a lot about high-speed air breathing propulsion and system integration during this time. This capstone was extremely difficult, and my final paper was ~140 pages long, including calculations and code. It was not unusual to only get 3-4 hours of sleep during this time. The following semester, I was the chief engineer of my capstone-part-two, where we built solution space topographies for feasible hypersonic aircraft point designs based on multiple factors, as well as a conceptual design of a methane-fueled hypersonic vehicle during the final half of the semester.

Start of my grad journey

I applied for graduate school in December 2019 to begin in Fall 2020. After going through aerospace engineering undergrad and having years of experience in industry, I knew I wanted to pursue the space side further but could not yet focus on a specific niche for my master’s—I was interested in too many subjects! For this reason, I applied for the Johns Hopkins Master of Science in Space Systems Engineering program, because I wanted to have a better idea of the space industry in general from a technical & management perspective. I wanted to learn about space mission planning and program management in addition to the technicalities of spacecraft hardware design, space weather, and spacecraft propulsion—just to name a few. I was accepted to the program in early February 2020 and excited to see my career and graduate education align in the direction I always wanted my career to lead. The pandemic hit during the final semester of my senior year, which meant that I didn’t have to commute 2-3 hours a day between university, work, and home. I was able to work almost a full-time job at Lockheed in addition to my full-time class load because of this. I was fortunate to not lose my job offer during that time, as many other graduating engineers were experiencing. Fast-forward to the present after spending 8 months at my full-time job, I have been able to identify the gaps in my engineering knowledge. I spend all day every day learning new material, collecting new equations, and building new spreadsheets to perform calculations. Two weeks into my new job, I volunteered to work halfway across the country for a two-month assignment, which gave me the ability to meet new people and live in a new city—not to mention collecting airline miles from commuting! Working full-time in a demanding job in addition to going to grad school has been somewhat difficult, but not nearly as difficult as working through undergrad. Time management is critical, and the earlier an engineering student can figure that out, the better. I have also gotten accustomed to high levels of stress, so I believe I am managing that better and not letting it affect me as it used to. However, the key to having better focus and better grades was getting professional therapy from my university. I was able to work out some of the issues that had been burdening me for years and affecting my ability to focus on studying and work. I strongly encourage all college students to visit the therapy department, even if you don’t think you need it! At the very least, you will learn how to be more introspective, gain a better understanding of who you are and what you want. Maybe you’ll learn stress coping techniques that will help you become a better public speaker or exam taker. Going forward, I plan to apply to my company’s rotational engineering program in a year to become a more well-rounded engineer and experience different departments. I also plan to do a PhD, but I want to get more industry experience first (and make money!). One niche I am particularly interested in is the effects of the space environment & space radiation on spacecraft and habitat design to support sustained deep-space human exploration. Currently outside of work, I participate in STEM outreach as a mentor to high school girls wanting to pursue engineering, as well as small-scale science communication across Instagram and YouTube.

Lauren's Advice To You



  • I advise everyone interested in doing a master’s to find a company that will pay for it. My master’s degree costs around $45,000, and I would not be able to pay that out of pocket! Most companies will pay around $75,000 USD towards continued education. You’ll have to work full-time while you study, but it relieves a huge financial burden, not to mention the gained experience and income you’ll be earning in the meantime! Not contributing to a 401k during the first few years post-graduate can make a massive difference in retirement savings. 
  • For new hires in the US: contribute to your 401k immediately and as much as you are able! I am currently balancing paying off $20k+ in undergraduate debt on top of saving and putting money away into my 401k, so I work out a percentage that I am comfortable with putting away in my retirement fund. The earlier you do this, the more your money will grow due to compounding interest compared to if you wait to contribute far more money later in life. 
  • Don’t be afraid to readjust your career path after experiences in an internship or job! Life and learning are journeys—don’t be afraid to start over in your late 20s or 30s. If you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, then make a plan to change it! The first purpose of a job will always be to earn money and benefits, but it is very important that you actually like what you do. Bonus points if you feel fulfilled doing it! 
  • The only way to know if you will like something is by doing it—this is why I encourage everyone to intern often and as much as possible. You’ll gain valuable knowledge and experience you can’t gain in a classroom. Plus, internship money is usually great and comes with benefits like health insurance!

Thank you so much for reading this article. If you enjoyed reading and if it helped you in any way please do share it with your family and friends. Subscribe to my email list to get access to a whole lot of free resources like cover letters, CV templates and much much more!

Stay safe and have a good day!


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