Combining psychology, anthropology, and business with engineering, Laura works with pilots and astronauts to design better flight and landing controls for the aircrafts and spacecrafts of tomorrow
Dear Aspiring, yet Tentative Engineer,
So you may not understand exactly what an engineer does. Be reassured, though, that engineering is a lot of fun! It feels a lot like playing with complex puzzles in order to develop solutions to significant problems. All the things that surround you are designed by engineers: cell phones, cars, medical devices and even make-up. Your sense of curiosity will never be satiated as an engineer; there will always be new things to learn about and explore. It’s a field that is rewarding every day.
Engineering is all about building systems. You will get to design and build new technology and products. You will work with teams to turn your technology ideas into real, tangible systems. Then, other people will get to use the systems you design. The me right now is leading a team to build a sensor management system.
The constrained math and physics problems you work on in school pale in comparison to what you’ll experience as an engineer. Engineering is a hands-on career path that allows you to solve dynamic, challenging problems with many more dimensions than just linear equations. Undergraduate studies in engineering will provide you with an understanding of the physical world, but graduate school will provide you with the opportunity to go beyond classroom mathematics and begin to intertwine the social sciences. The subjects that also interest you—psychology, anthropology, and business—will become more and more important to the field of engineering. There will be many paths you can take that combine engineering with one of these other areas.
Engineering is definitely not just about working at a desk to solve difficult math problems. Once your career gets going, you will rarely sit at your desk solving problems on your own. Your career will involve lots of human interactions: interaction with engineering teams to brainstorm ideas, interaction with colleagues at other companies and universities, interaction with the people who will use the systems you will be designing. There will be opportunities to lead different groups of people. You may lead a group who provides a specific area of expertise to think about a problem. You may lead another group to solve a particular problem. You will mentor students.
Engineering will take you to places you can’t even imagine. You will get to run experiments with astronauts and visit an air traffic control center in Iceland. You will ride in a Black Hawk helicopter with Air Force Special Operations Forces and then build technology that will help protect them in combat. You will write papers, real papers that are published and read by other scientists and engineers. You will present in front of hundreds of people including leaders of our military and NASA. You will close business deals and then lead people to develop the technology you envisioned. And you will be well rewarded every step of the way.
All that you have to do is believe in yourself and follow your dreams. You feel hesitation now about whether you will be a successful engineer and whether you will be happy in this career. The engineering courses are challenging and you constantly feel like you need to study more to stay on top. But the fight is worth it. Keep working hard. You can do more than you realize. If you just keep taking each step you are presented with, you will go farther than you can imagine right now. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn to options that only seem easy at the moment. Instead, seek out and focus on opportunities that sound the most interesting and exciting to you. You will surprise yourself by how much you can achieve when you’re faced with a stimulating challenge. You will find that you are able to make a significant mark on society. I promise you will receive a lot of joy and satisfaction for doing so.
The me right now
Laura Major is currently leading the Human-System Collaboration Group at C.S. Draper Laboratory. She is a Senior Member of Technical staff, specializing in cognitive engineering, human factors and human-computer interaction. She is leading the design of the next generation navigation and decision support system for Air Force Special Operations Forces and the design and evaluation of future cockpit concepts for lunar landing. She has experience working on air traffic control systems, spacecraft automation, intelligence analysis software and workflow modeling for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. Laura has an MS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT and a BS in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech.
Outside of work Laura enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking and is a proud member of the Science Club for Girls. She has served as a mentor for 4th and 5th graders for the past 4 years.