Where you can find her: Instagram: @rachmperini, LinkedIn: Rachel Perini
- Penn State, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 2016
- University of Michigan, M.S. Systems Engineering, 2020
Current Job Title: Vehicle Test Engineer, Ford Motor Company
What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?
Watching Bill Nye the Science Guy with my sisters, and then creating our own experiments out in the backyard, got us all interested in science. I wanted to be everything from an archaeologist to an entomologist (look it up), anything that meant I could get my hands into something fun outside. We also did a lot of tinkering and building things around the house with my dad so I learned about electricity and structures. While we complained about the chores at the time, it showed me the practical side of applied science and sparked a curiosity in how things work, which led me to engineering.
Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.
My parents gave us big wings as kids, and encouraged all sorts of hobbies. Santa brought me Animal Planet books, a microscope, a model cylinder engine, and all sorts of hand tools over the years – I loved them all! Nowadays, my dad (also an engineer) and I will geek out over cool work projects, and my mom has decided to begin her own STEM career. She graduates nursing school this spring and I could not be more proud of her example to never stop learning and to go after your dreams.
I have had some amazing mentors at Penn State and at Ford. They are both men and women, some near my age and some much older. Whether they know it or not, they have set inspiring examples for the kind of engineer I aspire to be, and have empowered me to take on all sorts of challenges at school and the workplace.
Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?
Undergrad engineering was by no means easy, but I the only time I worried I might not make it was failing my first exam (a heartbreaking 40% in a Heat Transfer). I buckled down, talked to the professor, studied hard for the final, and ended up with a B overall. The moral: Don’t let failures (in school or life) block your path. Learn from them and use them as fuel to do even better.
I have had many more doubtful moments in industry than in school. At work there are no grades or GPAs to let me know how I’m doing – I have to purposefully seek out feedback and try to navigate a career path that has no map. When I’m unsure that I am doing enough or “keeping up” with the rest of the pack I talk to my mentors who have been in my shoes before. They help me see my situation and my progress towards my goals more clearly.
Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.
In undergrad, I changed my major too many times to count the twists and turns. It was always engineering but a different flavor every week. Finally, I landed on Mechanical because its broadness would allow me to go into hundreds of different careers.
When I graduated, I took a position with Ford because they have a great rotational program for new engineers. I though I would like being a design engineer the best, but by rotating in other groups I found that I really prefer the higher energy, faster pace, think-on-your-feet environment of the test labs. I’m not really a car person, so Ford was a shot in the dark for me, but its been a great experience so far.
I’m sure there are more surprises to come in my career – I’m only 4 years in with lots left to go!
Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.
I love nature, and while I am not surrounded by it in my lab all day, I still get to have an impact on it by testing and improving vehicles’ emissions systems. This summer I found another way to combine nature with my job – helping out with Ford’s Beekeeping efforts. There are several hives around our engineering campus and assembly plants…check it out: https://www.campaign.ford.com/campaignlibs/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2018/06/15/new-workers-in-town-ford-launches-beekeeping-program.html
Another hobby of mine is painting, and I have found my artsy side super helpful when making presentations for work. Knowing how to really show your audience (and your bosses) the great work you’ve been doing takes creativity and flexes my graphic design muscle.
Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.
- Don’t be afraid to fail! It’s easy to waste time and energy focusing on the things that go wrong, but it’s much more powerful to learn from mistakes and push that fear aside when big (or risky) opportunities come your way. Just go for it.
- Surround yourself with people who make you better. Family, friends, mentors, pictures of your favorite people from history…. they all become part of your Personal Board of Directors and will be there to encourage, push, ground, and support you through it all!