In the first of three features celebrating International Women in Engineering Day, we’re excited to share the inspiration behind PhD student Miruna Rapeanu’s engineering story and her experience studying the subject at Churchill.

Miruna is from South Eastern Romania, where she attended a state high school in with a strong science profile. Keen to study abroad, she picked Churchill and graduated from her undergrad aerospace engineering degree in 2021. Miruna is now in the first year of her PhD in Future Propulsion and Power at the College, following a year of working in the Whittle Laboratory and an MRes in the same field.

What first inspired you to study engineering?

In high school, I was very fond of both physics and mathematics, and so considered studying physics at university. Coming to an admissions interview in the UK was actually my first time on a plane. That first flight made me realise just how incredibly complex and wonderful the process of converting physics knowledge into something useful for society at large could be. Consequently, engineering suddenly became a forefront option for me. After doing some research into aerospace engineering in particular, I decided that this degree would be the best match for my hands-on approach to life and curiosity about how the world around us works.

Are there any women engineers that inspire you?

As I decided to study engineering relatively late in my pre-university life, and since women continue to be underrepresented in this area, most of the women I look up to are those I have either met or found out about during my university years. Among the former, I must mention former Churchill College fellow Dr Anna Young and Dr Maria Vera-Morales. Dr Young was one of my supervisors when I was an undergrad and the first person connected to the aerospace field I met while in university. Although I was not particularly strong at the subject she was supervising (structures – I would rather try to build a plane than a bridge), her personality, knowledge and confidence became something to aim towards for 19-year-old-me. Dr Vera-Morales is my PhD co-supervisor and someone whose excitement for research and teaching, and commitment to outreach and supporting young women researchers, cannot be seen as anything but inspiring.

Among the latter, I would like to mention Mary Jackson, one of the first and most prominent women engineers at NASA. She had to take night classes to earn the qualifications necessary to be promoted to an engineering position, and she managed to make her way up to the top of the engineering department while having to fight both gender and racial discrimination. That would have been more than inspirational enough on its own, but to top it off, Ms Jackson did it all while also actively helping fellow women rise through the ranks at NASA!

Is Churchill a good place to study engineering?

In my (potentially biased) opinion, Churchill is one of the best places to study engineering. While learning and research are mostly undertaken in the main department and the various labs around West Cambridge, being part of a college that is STEM-focused by design means that, at the end of each day, we “come home” to a community that understands our potential struggles and is able to advise us from a place of knowledge. In my experience, this is doubled by an amazing pastoral care team that is eager to ensure we all get the help we need to make the most of our degrees.

What are your future career plans?

I am early enough in my PhD journey that I cannot say for certain whether I would prefer to continue working in research or pivot to an industry role after finishing my project. Regardless of the choice I end up making, I want to keep engineering work at the core of my career, because the one thing I can say for certain already is that I am enjoying engineering too much to see myself doing something completely different later on.

More about INWED

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was originally established in the UK in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and has since gained international recognition, with UNESCO patronage since 2016. The day serves as a platform to raise awareness about the career opportunities available to women in engineering and to celebrate the contributions of female engineers.