Graduate Stories: Gladys Ngetich, Kenyan aerospace engineering extraordinaire

Gladys Ngetich
Gladys Ngetich is a Schmidt Science Fellow at the Massachusetts University of Technology's Space Enabled Group. Source: Nature/Gladys Ngetich

Dr Gladys Ngetich’s interest in aerospace engineering was sparked while pursuing a BSc in Mechanical Engineering at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in her homeland, Kenya. “I got interested in thermofluids, so I was keen to explore it in my postgraduate project. That’s how I came across my PhD project on jet engine cooling at the University of Oxford, and that’s how I ended up in aerospace engineering,” she says. 

Gladys Ngetich

Hailing from Kenya, Gladys Ngetich followed her PhD dreams to the University of Oxford. She is now a Schmidt Science Fellow at the Massachusetts University of Technology. Source: Gladys Ngetich

Today, the 29-year-old PhD holder is a postdoctoral fellow at the Space Enabled Group (SEG) at the Massachusets University of Technology (MIT). She came to the US on a Schmidt Science Fellowship, inspired by the work the SEG does to “advance justice in Earth’s complex systems using designs enabled by space.”

The fellowship gives her a chance to research in a different field than her PhD, exposing her to different ways of thinking about problems and solving them. Ngetich is passionate about utilising space technologies to support sustainable development goals.

“Through this fellowship, I have met high-profile individuals leading innovations in STEM all over the world. It not only helps us hone our research skills but also hone our leadership skills, which is something dear to me,” she shares with Study International over e-mail.

Carving an identity and career in aerospace engineering

Ngetich counts herself fortunate to have had several role models on her aerospace engineering journey. She credits Eng. B. K. Kariuki and Eng. Hiram Ndiritu at JKUAT for inspiring her to major in thermofluids towards the end of her undergraduate studies. She’s also indebted to her PhD supervisor Professor Peter T. Ireland, who is Director of the Oxford Thermofluids Institute. Now, she looks up to SEG Director Professor Danielle Wood, who is the principal investigator in her postdoctoral research.

As a woman of colour, Ngetich has often had to do more to prove her abilities. “Comments like ‘You do not look like an engineer’ have been common. This is draining, of course, but I manage it by focusing on my work and what I love to do, as well as having a quality support system.”

That’s why part of her legacy will be paving the way for more young women like her to chase their dreams. Ngetich is already inspiring, mentoring, and empowering students back home through the Iluu Organisation in Nairobi. Here, the postdoctoral fellow shares her experience pursuing graduate studies in the UK.

Gladys Ngetich

Gladys Ngetich with Erik and Wendy Schmidt, who funded her postdoctoral fellowship to MIT. Source: Gladys Ngetich

Tell us some of your favourite memories of studying and living in the UK.

My favourite memories are perhaps visiting different universities across the UK — from Sheffield to Cardiff — through football and athletics. I played football for the University of Oxford women team and also did Oxford Blues athletics.

Why did you choose the University of Oxford, and what were the best aspects of studying there?

I earned the Rhodes Scholarship which is only taken at the University of Oxford. That is why I ended up at Oxford. One of the best aspects of studying at Oxford is meeting and networking with a diverse group of brilliant young people from all over the world. Another advantage is getting a chance to work in world-class laboratories.

How did your experience at the University of Oxford prepare you for your career?

My time at Oxford helped me hone my research skills in the field of thermofluids. It also helped to connect me with people working in the field.

Gladys Ngetich

“One of the best aspects of studying at Oxford is meeting and networking with a diverse group of brilliant young people from all over the world.” Source: Gladys Ngetich

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently as an international student?

I would be kinder to myself. As an international student arriving in a new country, it can be challenging to adapt and settle in. You are miles away from your loved ones and struggling to do many things, from making new friends to getting used to the weather, food, and culture. Dealing with these on top of rigorous academic work can easily overwhelm a new student. So if I could do it all again, I would take one step at a time and be kinder to myself.

What is your advice for international students looking to obtain a scholarship to study in the UK?

Studying abroad has tremendously expanded my scope and view of the world. So I would urge any international students looking to obtain a scholarship to study in the UK to go for it. 

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