A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Bridget McDonough, Test Conductor at Ursa Major Technologies, Former Flight Controller at World View and Brooke Owens Fellow with Space Capital
What is your background?
I’m a southern California native who received my B.S. in Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University in 2019. I was super lucky to be part of the third class of Brooke Owens Fellows the summer of 2019 and intern at Space Capital! I would subsequently get to work at World View Enterprises as a giant balloon (Stratollite) Flight Controller and then move on to be a Test Conductor at Ursa Major Technologies where I get to see hot fires every single day!
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
Definitely working on rocket engines! It seemed like the furthest of goals growing up, something only a select few people ever got to proudly say. There’s something incredible about being hands-on with a rocket engine one minute, and then seeing it roar to life and hot fire the next. Adding on to how incredibly intricate the whole system is, and then learning how everything has to work just right at the exact moment, it’s easy to question, “How is this my life right now?” and to feel proud of how far you’ve come.
What were the critical steps/choices that helped you get ahead?
I’ve always decided to shoot my shot, regardless of whether I believed I was qualified or not for something. Did I ever think I was fully qualified for my major, for the Brooke Owens Fellowship, or any job I’ve ever applied for? Not entirely. But deciding to at least try, to put myself out there, to fully attempt even with the chance of failure - this dedication to giving myself a chance has opened doors that I might have assumed were closed to me.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
I don’t remember the tests I failed, or the problems I got wrong, or the homework assignment I never turned in. I do remember the satisfaction of receiving my diploma though, and recognizing and validating all the hard work, determination, and effort I put in to receive it. Realizing that I could complete something by setting my mind to it has had a huge impact on how I approach my life. Part of working with new technology is realizing you’re going to run into problems that will challenge you. But by using the same approach as I did for my education, where I’m taking a new problem or subject and learning small aspects of it day by day, and where I’m determined to find an answer or understanding, I end up with the solutions and insights I need.
What about your career have you enjoyed the most and least?
I am always learning new things, every single day. I’m constantly surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met and to have the opportunity to learn from them, people that have devoted years to studying and working in their respective fields, is not only motivating but incredibly inspiring.
Work/life balance can be a tricky thing to balance at times, especially at start-ups. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of working on cutting-edge technology, which in turn, causes you to spend a large portion of your daily time at work. Occasionally, I find myself struggling to keep up with my relationships and hobbies that are as equally invigorating to me as my career. But as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, and most of my work days have flown by, so I also see spending a large portion of my time at work as a sign that I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
How are we going to make the aerospace industry more sustainable? How do we make it more reusable and more eco-friendly? I think the aerospace industry and sustainability are bound to cross, if they haven’t already, and anyone with the skills and ideas to tackle these questions will be highly sought after.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation following a similar career path?
Be curious. And be daring. Envision the highest goal you can set for yourself and go after it!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If you’re a woman or gender minority interested in pursuing a career in the aerospace industry, apply to the Brooke Owens Fellowship! (http://www.brookeowensfellowship.org/). If it weren’t for this Fellowship, I don’t think I’d be in the same place I am now!
If you’re a Black or African-American student interested in landing your first internship in the aerospace industry, apply to the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship! (https://www.pgsfellowship.org/apply)
And if you’re a college junior, senior, or graduate student with a passion for exploring our universe to help better humankind, apply to the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship! (https://www.matthewisakowitzfellowship.org/)
The Space Talent Spotlight is our blog series focused on the leaders and builders at the intersection of space and tech.The Space Talent Spotlight is our blog series focused on the leaders and builders at the intersection of space and tech.