Camilo Gonzalez Arango
- Course: Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering MEng, BEng
- Year of graduation: 2020
- Job title: PhD Student
- Company: University of Leeds
What have you been doing since finishing your studies?/What are you doing in terms of your career?
After my Master’s year I started a PhD at the University’s Real Robotics Lab which specialises in developing robotic solutions to solve real world problems.
Alongside the PhD, I also work at a start-up which I founded with two friends during my undergraduate degree. My long-term aspiration is to build a career in research and development where I get to invent what doesn’t exist yet every day.
Could you tell us a little more about your start-up and what it involves?
Our start-up is called Trion Technologies and we have a project portfolio that covers several robotics and computing applications in the medical, aerospace and agriculture industries. My role in the company is to come up with project ideas, make development plans and prepare pitch presentations. This usually involves doing background research on the topic area, talking with experts in the field, conducting feasibility studies and looking for project partners.
Over the past two years we have lobbied various projects to different organisations like IFAD, Innovate UK and other private companies. Recently, we succeeded in securing funding for one of our computing projects in the medical field. We are preparing to start this project in January 2021.
What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped prepare you for the future?
Throughout my undergraduate I had good exposure to many different areas of engineering, including fields outside the typical scope of an aerospace degree such as robotics and computer science. Contact with these fields comes naturally during the first two years of the course where the Design and Manufacture modules pose design challenges to be tackled in teams. Since the design problems often require work across multiple areas (mechanical design, supporting calculations, programming, manufacture, etc...) students are free to choose which areas of the problem they get involved in and how deep they dive into it. Personally, this allowed me to gain interest in areas that otherwise I might have not experienced, and they turned out to be so interesting that I ended up specialising in them.
The dissertation modules were also very helpful because they allowed me to further develop in areas that appealed to me but were not strictly aerospace related.
Why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?
At Leeds the first two years of the mechanical engineering degrees share the same curriculum, which covers basic engineering topics needed across these fields.
I originally started on the mechanical degree because I was not sure which branch of engineering I wanted to specialise in, and I wanted to keep my options open. After year two, having gained a better appreciation for the specifics of the different courses and the basics, I realised that the aerospace degree was the most interesting to me, so I decided to change to it. This is a convenient option offered by the School because making the change is easy and it allows students to make a better-informed decision of what they would like to specialise in.
Originally, I chose Leeds because of the reputation and ranking of the mechanical engineering degree which at the time was 1st in the UK according to some league tables.
What was the best aspect of your course?
For me the best part of the course is the balance of theory and practice across all modules. No matter which year you are in, you will get the opportunity to apply what you have learnt in labs and design projects where you often get to build and test your designs. This really cements the theory background of all modules and provides opportunities to see how all you have learnt fits into a typical engineering design task.
Can you tell us about some of the exciting projects you completed as part of your degree?
Throughout the course there are plenty of design and build projects that make for exciting opportunities to apply what you have learnt. As you progress through the years, the projects get more involved and interesting.
From the first year, my favourite project consisted in designing a rubber-band powered buggy using a select set of materials and subject to various constraints. This is a great first example of the engineering design process because there is plenty of freedom to explore different designs, and background theory has a very visible impact on the design.
From the second year, my favourite project was a design competition where, as part of a team you are tasked with designing a water wheel that maximises power generation when mounted in a custom rig. This project is very interesting because it has many design variables involving trade-offs that need to be carefully balanced to produce an optimum solution. At the same time, the available manufacture methods are more complex than in previous years and there are opportunities to test and iterate on your design which provides a more realistic experience of the engineering design process.
Lastly, the dissertation projects were my all-time favourites because they present you with a completely open problem in a field that you are likely unfamiliar with. Therefore, these projects push you to acquire new skills and go up a steep learning curve very quickly. For my third-year dissertation I worked on the development of a robotic system to catch objects flying at high speed and for my fourth-year project I worked on the design of a UAV to explore and map volcano plumes. All in all, no matter which dissertation project you choose, by the end of it you will feel much more confident to tackle other engineering problems out in the real world.
What activities outside of your studies were you involved in?
I joined the tennis society for a couple of years and went on various give-it-a-go sessions with the astronomy, mechanical engineering and get out get active society. With Leeds University Union, no matter what your interests are, there will be a society for you and people that share your interests.
What would you say to students thinking about studying your course?
I would say that the aerospace degree is very well organised and will provide you with a comprehensive background in aircraft design and control, while also giving you the flexibility to explore other areas of engineering during the first two years.
Also, I would say that Leeds is a great option because of the quality of the degree and what the city has to offer. This means that you will enjoy your time at university and when you are done, you will be well prepared to join the aerospace industry or pursue any other path that you may choose.
What does Leeds as a city have to offer students?
Before coming to university, I had no idea that the city itself would end up being one of the best reasons to choose Leeds. The best way to put it is that Leeds provides the big city experience in a not so big city - mostly inhabited by students. You can expect a very active social scene, great nightlife and plenty of options to spend your free time. The student community is also very diverse which will allow you to meet people from all over the world.