– What is your name and job title?
Alexandra Stefanescu, F1 CFD Tools and Methods Engineer
– Could you give me a summary of your job role?
I work with Computational Fluid Dynamics software, which is used to simulate the fluid flow around the race car in order to predict aerodynamic performance. In my job, I use a mix of technical skill sets; somewhere between mathematics, physics and computer science.
– When did you know you wanted to work in Formula 1?
At the end of my Batchelor degree, a job in F1 seemed not just very cool, but also quite a challenge to obtain because it required not only the brightest engineers but it felt to me at least that it required a specialised skill set – mostly to do with taking good smart decision at the characteristic high speed of the industry. Besides, I like muscle cars and race cars so I thought I will change the industry from aircraft to cars but also raise the bar even higher by going for the seemingly hardest to get into strand of motorsport, which is F1.
– What’s the best thing about your job?
Learning many inter-disciplinary skills and having to do research that puts you a little closer to the frontline of technology in your field. It’s a privilege and also very motivating to see that what you work with can be used on other applications and help develop a certain field.
– What subjects and courses did you take?
For A-levels I studied Mathematics, Physics and Sociology, the latter not being an exact science but to be honest it is still a subject which can help you develop critical thinking and analytical skills which effectively can be used in any science and engineering context. I enjoyed having a subject to mix up my A-level education. I have a Batchelor degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Bristol, a Masters in Aerodynamics and Aerostructures from Sheffield University and a PhD in Turbulence Modelling for Motorsport Applications from the University of Manchester.
– Did you do any work experience?
I did a one year internship at Airbus UK in the Flight Physics department where I first came across CFD. The bridge between what you study and what you can do with what you study was unveiled to me with this opportunity, not to mention gaining industrial experience and professional skills that university may not teach yo, to make you more employable for the future.
When I decided that I want to work in Formula 1, I started a PhD and during my PhD I also independently sought out internship opportunities to make my research more applicable and make my profile stand out further. I obtained an internship with McLaren Racing, which brought into the world of F1 finally, I worked hard and was even more motivated by this.
– What has been your biggest challenge?
To finish my PhD and get a job in F1 from completing it, as that’s why I decided to do it in the first place. I would say that any PhD can be psychologically as well as intellectually challenging, you are faced with unsolved problems and have to bring something completely new to the field. More unique to my PhD, I focused hard on making it applicable to the motorsport field which wasn’t always easy or straight forward.
So to do that, I had spent some time researching turbulence modelling in automotive and race cars, trying to learn how this industry works without having worked in it myself previously, and bearing in mind that due to the competitive nature of the sport, it can be very secretive and protective of its information. I also took upon myself to look for industrial opportunities during my PhD, for exactly the purpose of learning more about the field and how my PhD research could contribute.
– What was the best thing you ever did to help you get to where you are today?
Networking. Hands down and without a shadow of a doubt, networking is an indisputable door opener. You can do this by going out to professional events like public lectures, seminars, career fairs, events organised through university or student societies and trying to meet different types of people from a mix of professional backgrounds, practising conversation and learning about people and the engineering industry. I can understand that it may be difficult to break the ice or initiate conversation, especially as some of us are quite shy and I can relate to that myself, but it takes a few times to practice.
You may see an interesting lecture and wish to speak to the person who delivered afterwards or you are passing by the stand of a company you might be interested to work for. You go up to the person in question, introduce yourself, maybe provide a few comments why you thought their talk was interesting or if they can tell you more about a particular detail or you may have a a question to ask them, go and do it, you might get a bit nervous but you will be happy you did it.
– Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have had their studies interrupted and are unsure of how it will affect them in the future. Are there any words of advice or inspiration you can share during such a challenging time?
I guess it’s normal right now to feel worried, perhaps even anxious about how this affects your studying and your plans for the future. What is important to realise is that the whole world is aware of it and no matter what less than optimal effect this has on you, from an academic and professional view, employers, teachers, researchers, are aware and should be sympathetic.
It’s important to keep to your studies as much as possible, perhaps even look into online learning course to expand your skills and experience, like programming. You can find pretty good material that is free and this will also something to keep you busy. There are perhaps opportunities for your research or skills to be used in the battle for the Covid-19 virus, you can try researching that. Whatever you do, you mustn’t give up on your ambitions or plans for the future, even though you might have to make adjustments to match what the industry will look like when we come out on the other side, which we will. Have courage, stay safe and positive.
– How are you coping with the lockdown?
Trying to take the opportunity for a rest as once things will get more back to normal, work might get busy to make up for the lost races. It’s tempting to succumb to very lazy habits, but I try to stick to a routine, do some exercise and not check the news too often. I have hobbies which help to keep me busy. It’s the perfect time to do a lot of those things you usually find you never have time for.