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Student story

Rafael | Freedom.

02 August 2023

PhD in Mechanical Engineering


Can you share a snapshot of your background?

I'm originally from Brazil. I studied aerospace engineering but ended up working in the finance industry for 20 years. I moved to New Zealand in 2016 because I wanted my kids too have an international experience in a beautiful, safe environment, which also gave me the opportunity to return to the engineering studies.

What inspired you to enrol at UC?

I’ve always loved flying and I became really interested in the idea of building a drone, so I decided to get my PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I'm doing it out of curiosity, fun and the desire for a personal challenge.

Where are you up to with it?

I just finished defending my thesis. It’s in aerodynamics, analysing propeller performance using a wind tunnel. I’m also working with some other students to build a drone. 

What exactly is aerospace engineering?

Aerospace engineering is the science that provides knowledge to build flying vehicles.  Mechanical engineering with emphasis in aerospace is also applied to many aspects of these projects. There are some really high profile startups in New Zealand involved with rockets, satellite and drones development. It’s a growing industry so it's a good and interesting field to be getting into.

What do you love about aerospace yourself?

As a teenager I used to be a skydiver. I loved to fly and wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot. My eyesight wasn't good enough so I went into aeronautical engineering instead. I love understanding how things fly and building things that fly. I feel like a kid playing with flying toys.

What have you enjoyed most about your degree?

Having the freedom to choose my own path. UC has been great place to study. The campus is beautiful and the facilities are excellent, with brand-new buildings and labs. Not every university has a wind tunnel! I enjoyed working with my supervisor as well. He put just enough pressure on me to keep me motivated.

Do you have any advice for adult students coming back to study?

Come and do it. You’ll have a good time and get lots of support. UC is a world-class university, and the South Island is the best place in New Zealand. You have the ocean, the mountains, the skiing… Kiwis are open and friendly. My whole family has loved living here.

Do you have an outcome in mind for your PhD – where would you like it to lead?

I don't have a specific goal, but it's definitely going to open doors. I expect that I’ll be able to find work in mechanical engineering. Perhaps I’ll create a startup about drones! I've seen other graduates doing well and getting jobs. New Zealand is investing a lot of money in aerospace, so it's a great industry to be getting into.

You nearly have your PhD in hand – how does it feel?

I feel so happy. I nearly stopped at one point. We were going to move to Europe, but the pandemic hit and we ended up staying here. I’m very happy that I got to stay and finish my degree.

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