Please tell us about yourself

Varshini Kamaraj is an aeronautical engineer and currently pursuing her graduate studies at Wisconsin. In this post, Varshini talks about her values, motivations and challenges through her engineering career and her future interests in teaching. She is a mentor with Careers Infinite.

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 What motivated you to choose aeronautical engineering?

I wish I could tell you that I always wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but that’s not my story. For me, it was a gradual development. Growing up, I enjoyed watching ‘Swat Cats’ on Cartoon Network. Somehow the idea of anthropomorphic felines building and flying a fighter aircraft made of junk appealed to me. I was also very interested in astronomy. My sister and I looked for the space station, constellations and comets when they passed over the city. I think I was really inspired to choose aeronautical engineering when I read a short biographical note about Kalpana Chawla in my English textbook in high school.  She studied in India and then went on to study for her Masters at UT Arlington and PhD in UC Boulder in aerospace engineering. She became a licensed pilot and eventually became an astronaut. I was inspired by her education path and life story. I wanted to follow her path and decided to study Aeronautical Engineering at Vel Tech Engineering College.

Could you give us a brief overview of your educational background and talk about some of your projects?

I did my Bachelors in Aeronautical engineering at Vel Tech Engineering College. There, I did a project in fluid dynamics. Vortex generators are usually found on sports cars (look for spikes on the roof) and are used to reduce the drag force in your car. You can use the same principle inside an aircraft engine to improve the airflow and increase engine efficiency. My final year project involved designing a Y shaped rectangular air intake duct and analyzing its flow parameters with and without incorporating vortex generators, using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). At that time, my teammate and I were very interested in the CFD portion of the project.In India, a lot of people will stay away from CFD as job opportunities in this field are fewer. It is a specialized field about how airflow affects the aircraft’s components. Structures and their components and design change over time. So, there are a lot more opportunities in structural engineering. During my Masters at San Diego State University, I switched to structures and my mentor, Dr. Satchi Venkataraman, played a huge role in helping me understand the importance of structural mechanics in aerospace engineering.
What is the difference between aerospace and aeronautical engineering?

Aerospace engineering is the top part of the tree and its two branches are aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineering deals with aircrafts that fly within the earth’s atmosphere. Astronautical engineering deals with spacecrafts outside the earth’s atmosphere (The earth’s atmosphere according to international standards is defined as the Karman line. Anything above 100km is outside earth’s atmosphere).
What are some of the challenges you faced in this journey?

The first challenge has been dealing with people who have the misconception that if you are a boy studying aeronautical engineering, you will become a pilot; but, if you are a girl, you will become an air hostess. You will be surprised to know how many people have told me this. Many people don’t really know what aeronautical engineers do for a living.During my undergrad, I remember a phone call when a man tried to convince me to join his training center for design engineering. His reason for insisting that I join was this: “You are a girl, you can work only in the design field in front of a computer. Why don’t you join?” I silently wondered if he had not heard of Valentina Tereshkova, Amelia Earhart, Kalpana Chawla or Sunita Williams.