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Q&A: Khadijah Ismail

After completing a degree apprenticeship with BAE Systems, Khadijah Ismail has turned her hand to writing STEM children’s books to inspire the next generation of engineers.
A female engineer onsite at a solar powered grinding mill.

Khadijah in Nepal at the site of a solar grinding mill project © Khadijah Ismail 2021

Why did you become interested in science and engineering?

I’ve always been captivated by aircraft, and that childhood wonder never really left me. It felt natural to channel that passion into a career in aerospace engineering. The thrill of understanding the intricacies of flight and the mechanics behind it was intriguing.

How did you get to where you are now?

I took a nonconventional path. Instead of the traditional academic route, I embarked on a degree apprenticeship with BAE Systems. This provided me with invaluable learning experiences and exposure to different facets of engineering. Over the past six years at BAE Systems, I’ve rotated among various teams, delving into different parts of the engineering lifecycle and truly comprehending systems thinking.

An illustration of two women scientists in a lab with an array of brightly coloured test tubes.

Illustration featuring the characters in The STEMventurers © Khadijah Ismail

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

There have been several milestones in my career, but two stand out. First, contributing to the PHASA-35 project, which is an ultra-lightweight, high-altitude, pseudo-satellite, uncrewed aerial system that is powered by solar energy. It will provide an alternative for Earth observation and satellite communications. The second is being a part of the Kaan project in Turkey to design and develop an indigenous fifth-generation fighter jet for the Turkish Air Force. Outside of my core job, I had the privilege to travel to Nepal (thanks to funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Engineering Leaders Scholarship programme), to work on solar microgrids. I’m also currently working on STEM books for children, aiming to inspire the next generation, which are available on Amazon.

What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?

For me, the beauty of engineering lies in its ability to reduce complexity and make sense of the intricate. I cherish the opportunity to think abstractly, employ model-based systems engineering approaches, and contribute to projects that have a tangible impact on our world. But it’s more than just the technical bits – it’s about the people I work with, the shared laughter over a coffee break, and the collective cheer when we crack a tough problem.

What does a typical day involve for you?

As a mission systems engineer based in Turkey, my day revolves around employing systems thinking to navigate challenges. I frequently use Magicdraw by Dassault Systems, a software toolset that aids in understanding and addressing complex engineering problems through a model-based approach.

Quick-fire facts

Age:

24

Qualifications: 

degree in aerospace engineering (through apprenticeship with BAE Systems)

Biggest engineering inspiration: 

the brilliant engineers I work with daily

Most-used technology: 

Magicdraw by Dassault Systems 

Three words that describe you:

motivated, enthusiastic, driven

What would be your advice to young people looking to pursue a career in engineering?

There’s magic in engineering, in creating, in building. Embrace every learning opportunity that comes your way. Engineering is not just about technical know-how: it’s about understanding the bigger picture, collaborating with others, and being persistent in the face of challenges. Remember, unconventional paths often lead to the most rewarding experiences. 

What’s next for you?

I’m excited about the continuous growth and learning opportunities that lie ahead. I aim to further my contributions in aerospace engineering and expand on my passion project: the STEM books for children. I believe in empowering the next generation with knowledge and inspiration.

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