Alumni profile - Eathan Plaschka
I always thought the best route to learning from an international and diverse community was to completely immerse myself in one. And, there was no better place to do such a thing other than at Queen Mary. I had always wanted to complete my studies in the UK, and I knew that I could benefit from the experience of studying alongside many other international students.
(Mechanical Engineering BEng, 2020)
What attracted you to a degree and career in engineering?
Problem-solving. When I look back on why I selected my course, I knew I had this innate desire to learn how to crack any problem. When I was young, I was fascinated with technology such as the Concorde. This spurred me on to take higher level maths and physics courses in high school. Looking back, I did struggle with parts of the math I was being taught, but this didn’t stop my desire to pursue engineering. I may have struggled in certain exam scenarios, but I always learned from my mistakes in the exam hall how to go out and produce better work. Learning from mistakes allowed me to become a better engineer, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these experiences. I always wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to develop better solutions and solve problems I was faced with. At the end of the day, pursuing a career in engineering was the perfect path for me.
Could you tell us more about why you chose to study at Queen Mary?
I always thought the best route to learning from an international and diverse community was to completely immerse myself in one. And, there was no better place to do such a thing other than at Queen Mary. I had always wanted to complete my studies in the UK, and I knew that I could benefit from the experience of studying alongside many other international students. In addition, Queen Mary’s location in Mile End provided me with the ability step outside of the classic touristic neighbourhoods of London such as Kensington and Chelsea. I was able to spend three years living in East London and was able to embrace living in such a fun and upbeat part of the city.
Formula Student was probably one of the most defining activities that took place in my academic career. I met some really interesting people who all shared a deep interest in engineering which in turn expanded my understanding of different concepts.
What aspects of your degree did you enjoy and what were your most memorable moments at university?
For me, it was always about going one layer deeper in the subject matter I was reading. I had the incredible opportunity to be taught by professors such as Dr. Henri Huijberts and Dr. Yousef Zawahreh, both of whom opened my eyes while teaching different core fundamentals in engineering. In these encounters I also met an incredible group of friends whom I am still very close with today. My most memorable moment was probably receiving my diploma. After a difficult year and feeling the effects of Covid 19, getting my diploma in the mail made me cycle through all the memories and look back with a great deal of fondness on all my academic accomplishments and think about all the incredible friends I made during my time at Queen Mary.
How did you find the experience of moving to London to study? What helped you adapt to a new culture and way of life?
Moving to London was a big transition. I had lived in big cities all my life, but there is something quite special about London. People who choose to move to this city have a certain character that really brings the city to life. It took me the better half of a year to find my favourite places to eat and grab coffee from, but eventually things lined up. What helped me to adapt was meeting people who were also new to the city as well as deciding to venture out to new places I had found on social media. Oddly enough, I found a lot of my favourite spots by chance whilst walking around different boroughs. Going out for walks around the city often made a big difference. The way of life took a bit longer to adjust to, but eventually I felt comfortable navigating without a map.
What type of research or extracurricular activities did you participate in at Queen Mary that helped you to succeed?
Formula Student was probably one of the most defining activities that took place in my academic career. I met some really interesting people who all shared a deep interest in engineering which in turn expanded my understanding of different concepts. I truly found my community and learned so much through older students who had been on the team for longer. Being part of a student-run engineering group was also an excellent pathway into gaining engineering experience outside the classroom. I was able to learn about AutoCAD and common simulation techniques that allowed me to excel in many interview situations. I was able to develop a clear understanding of fundamental principals, while also taking part in a motorsport-related society.
Eathan pictured during his time with Formula Student.
Your core areas of interest include product design, material selection, propulsion, data analyses and simulation. What led you to these areas and how do you feel your BEng at Queen Mary prepared you for pursuing them?
My interests in engineering developed over time during the latter half of my degree. I had the chance to take materials science and design modules during my second and third year which opened my eyes to other aspects of engineering. I truly received a 360-view of the avenues one could undertake in engineering and was drawn to materials science and product design as a result of my enthusiastic lecturers such as Dr. James Busfield and Dr. Wei Tan. They really valued student input and wanted to teach both the fundamentals of the core subject matter and encourage us to go a level deeper in coursework and group projects. I still do not have a defined area that I am aiming to specialise in, but throughout my time at Queen Mary I did appreciate the exposure to materials selection and product design as well as how they intertwine.
Could you tell us more about what you did while interning for McGuire Engineers?
I had the opportunity to intern twice with McGuire Engineers, once after my first year of university, and another time during Covid 19. I was initially eager to gain experience working for an engineering firm during the summer months to prepare myself for any future graduate roles. At McGuire, I worked on design, engineering and consulting projects on a full range of in-house engineering services including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, sprinkler and life safety systems. My primary task was to assist engineers in preparing engineering drawings for clients and generating CAD setups to complete necessary drafting changes on Bluebeam and Revit. This accelerated senior engineers in completing their ongoing projects. In addition to this, I was responsible for cross-referencing building guidelines and codes for a multitude of large-scale development projects in Chicago such as the renovation of Chicago’s famous old post-office building.
In your career to date, what achievements are you most proud of?
This is a good question. I think grades and awards always speak for themselves, but I prefer to look at my personal achievements. I had always struggled with anxiety and stress throughout my time at university. Whether it be social or academic, I was normally quite hard on myself. Often in exams I pushed myself so hard and then blanked during the exam. This was quite difficult to overcome, and Queen Mary staff were really there to support me. I took the time to work on myself, and even set up the Movember Foundation’s network at Queen Mary. This charity focused on promoting conversations surrounding Male mental health and suicide prevention. These conversations were really difficult, but the campus really embraced the movement and as of 2017, Queen Mary and The Barts have raised over $30.000 for the charity. So, academics aside, I think my most proud achievement was helping to improve the language around mental health across campus. Moreover, offering other students the tools to improve their own personal welfare has directly translated into students enjoying their time at university more. This alone has been incredibly fulfilling, and I am proud of all the work that my friends have also put into helping me.
I truly received a 360-view of the avenues one could undertake in engineering and was drawn to materials science and product design as a result of my enthusiastic lecturers such as Dr. James Busfield and Dr. Wei Tan.
What does being a successful engineer mean to you?
Being a successful engineer means to be satisfied with one’s own product. A lot of the time I sense that engineers get caught in the later half of a project and struggle to sort out the fine to medium details. This often leads to frustration, however the final result offers a sense of relief (most of the time), as well as a feeling of fulfilment. Whether it be a small or large project, I always aim to be satisfied once I complete a project. As engineers, we learn through experience and error, and that often brings out the best ideas and creations. So, while we may not always feel successful in our own endeavours, we eventually gain the project experience to become the best form of ourselves and become successful engineers.
What advice would you give your past self?
Learn to be a better listener. So many times I have found myself not listening to instructions or directions properly and it has cost me dearly. While I think we can all suffer from miscommunications, especially in a digital world where most people type faster than they think, learning how to communicate and listen are probably two of the most critical skills my past self could have benefitted from. As humans we interpret information and commands differently, and that’s the imperfect aspect of ourselves. But I believe if I was a better listener and didn’t get so caught up in my own interpretations of a conversation, I would be an even better engineer.
What advice would you give to prospective students thinking of studying in another country based on your own experiences?
The best advice I could give is prepare to step outside of your comfort zone and actively seek to meet different people. As we emerge out of lockdowns and a year with limited physical social interaction, the worst thing you can do is remain sheltered in your own bubble. There should not be anything that stops you from meeting new people and making valuable connections. Universities host social and academic groups of all kinds, and that’s the best place to start if you are looking to meet like-minded people.
Finally, where do you see yourself in 2030?
I would really like to see myself in a lead technical development role, either in the automotive or motorsport sector. I think road transport is a significant sector we need to work towards improving, especially with infrastructure and emissions regulations. Engineering in the future will involve reversing our previous mistakes, especially with respect to climate change. Thus, I see my future as an opportunity to work creatively with other engineers and scientists to produce solutions that benefit the planet and still meet respective performance targets. A lot of companies have the resources to develop brilliant engineering solutions, and I would love to be in charge of a project which changes lives and sets out new baselines in technical innovation.