From summer internships to graduate programme: Callum McDonnell, Mechanical Engineer
06 Apr 2021



I’ve had the amazing opportunity to intern with STFC twice; first in 2018 as a Mechanical Design Engineer at ISIS, and then in summer 2020 as a Satellite Systems Engineer at RAL Space.

Callum McDonnell

​​​​​Callum McDonnell

Credit: Callum McDonnell

I'm currently in the 4th year of my undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol and will be joining the ISIS graduate scheme in September 2021 as a Mechanical Engineer.

Internships at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Science, space, and engineering have always been incredibly exciting to me. I'm​​ not sure if it started from playing with Mechano, launching water-bottle rockets, or visiting the Science Museum in London; but I knew I wanted to take on the most complex scientific problems out there. RAL – with its many fields of cutting-edge research and advanced technologies – seemed like the perfect match.

Working at Harwell had always been an exciting dream and a target I set myself as early as my GCSEs. Before university, I had been to the campus a few times on school tours, and once in Sixth Form to present our Engineering Development Trust project on nuclear waste storage casing materials in partnership with Nuvia.

Placements at ISIS and RAL Space

​During my first year at university, I had no real idea where I wanted to pursue a career in. I had really enjoyed past A-Level and coursework projects working with CAD, CAM, and product design; so, I hoped to find an internship that would help me gain insight into how these skills are used in industry.

My placement at ISIS​ in 2018 gave me just that opportunity, working alongside engineers at ISIS to design a cutting-rig as part of the major TS1 ​​project. This gave me incredible exposure to the professional, yet friendly and supportive atmosphere at RAL. I had been hoping to return to the site ever since, and in 2020 I was fortunate enough to manage just that.

My RAL Space placement last summer involved investigating the application of Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) to the ESA Ariel mission. MBSE was an interesting area to study as it is often not taught in academic settings, and so the chance to learn while applying it to an active satellite mission was great. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, this placement had to be entirely remote. However, despite never meeting in-person, the frequent Zoom calls and coffee-mornings helped me feel incredibly comfortable in this new working environment, quickly removing any worries I had. 

Working alongside the systems team on an international ESA mission was an exciting introduction to the work of a space systems engineer and greatly developed my understanding of how large scale satellite missions are managed. Attending regular staff seminars on topics ranging from upgrade work on CERN to Neutrino-studying spaceships gave me great insight into the scope of research carried out across STFC. Despite working remotely, every day of the placement brought something new and so I was constantly finding exciting areas to learn about.

​Looking forward to the Graduate Programme

My past opportu​nities at RAL have been invaluable in terms of developing my technical and interpersonal skills, helping me to become more confident and aware of the crucial role the varied disciplines of engineering play in supporting scientific research across the UK. I can't wait to be part of one of the many teams across the site enabling the important work of STFC into areas such as carbon capture technologies, hydrogen fuel storage, and new healthcare bio-materials that will help tackle some the world's most pressing issues such as climate change. I am also very excited to begin supporting STFC outreach events to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.​

Image: ISIS placement 2018. Credit: Callum McDonnell