Choosing a career path can take time. Some of us might envy the singular focus of Navid Kalani: “From a young age, I wanted to go into engineering.’
Growing up in Horsham, West Sussex, Navid excelled at Maths and Science but felt those subjects didn’t offer “very tangible career routes”. He thought he would prefer the “practicality” of Engineering: “It's nice to have an idea and to think about the theory, but also then to actuate that into physical objects or solutions. I want my career to be meaningful; I want to be able to learn as I go; and I would like my work to have a positive impact on those around me, whether it be big or small.”
Navid has just completed his third year at Sidney, achieving a First in his bachelor’s degree.
As he looks forward to his fourth year, and completing his MEng, it has been announced that Navid has been selected for a scholarship from the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading Foundation (ISTAT), worth $10,000. He is the only Cambridge student - and one of only 39 students worldwide - to be in receipt of this prestigious scholarship in 2023.
So, how have you found Cambridge?
“It's been good. Yeah, it's obviously challenging, as you would expect if you're coming to a place of such academic rigour, but a good kind of challenge.
“I mean, there's times when I have a lot of work on, but I also get a lot of joy and satisfaction, especially out of the practical elements that are drilled into the course.
“The course is really well taught. There are a lot of avenues to deepen your knowledge, and also to engage on the practical side. It’s a good place in terms of making you think!
“With Engineering, the first two years are general. Apart from one small module at the end of your second year, everything is prescribed. So, you'll do mechanical, structural, electrical, information engineering… the whole lot in your first two years.
“At the end of third year, you do two projects, for four weeks each.
“One of my projects was on automotive suspension, and it focused on design, and using things like 3D modelling to try and understand the design decisions that are needed to basically build a car suspension system.
“You have a general design that you are working within - it's in the context of a Formula Student racing car – but there are still endless decisions: how to shape a component; how you fit everything together.
“My other project was on advanced power cycles. We currently have a lot of gas turbines that produce power for the National Grid. My project was focused on exploring the different designs for gas or steam plants, and it also delved a little bit into the future to look at how hydrogen or renewable energies would integrate into these systems.
“It’s a positive thing to have renewable energy in the system, but then there’s the question of how you balance the volatility - it's not always going to be windy or sunny. You can have hydrogen power as a backup, but then how do you store that hydrogen?
“So it was really fantastic to delve into that a bit.”
So, turning to your scholarship, how did that come about?
“So, I believe the University is able to offer two nominations to the Institute. So, my Director of Studies nominated me, and the Department accepted.
“The Scholarship comes with a very generous donation towards my tuition fees - I was awarded $10,000. And then on top of that I will become an alumni of the ISTAT Scholarship Foundation. I have also been given a five-year membership of the Foundation.
“ISTAT offer frequent conferences and events, and they have a very broad network of members - lots of people involved in the aeronautics community. The Foundation has its own university programme for aeronautics and it’s involved in publishing and humanitarian efforts as well. The Foundations tries to promote the next generation of individuals coming into the industry and also to support the industry itself, to move in whatever direction it needs to move in.”
The Scholarship is for a student with high academic achievement. You have done very well! Is it a good academic environment at Sidney?
“Yes, very much so. What I didn't know before I arrived here is that Sidney is one of the top colleges in terms of the Engineering Fellow-to-student ratio.
“So, there are a lot of different Engineering Professors and Fellows at the College. Both of my Directors of Studies have been excellent in terms of really pushing me forward. If I get a good grade in an exam, they'll be like, ‘Fantastic - do better next year!’ (laughs)
“So, it’s great in terms of motivation, and there are a lot of opportunities as well. We have an Engineering Society that brings in speakers from different companies, to give career insights.
“I was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Society last year, alongside two other students. So that gave me another great opportunity to be in touch with the Engineering Fellows and the Society President, and also lots of different people from different companies. We had people from Bosch and lots of different geotech and electrical and mechanical firms. So there have been plenty of different opportunities to learn about the industry and where it's going, as well as have the academic and social support to keep pushing on.”
So that's the academic side. Have you also enjoyed the social side of college life?
“Yes, absolutely. Sidney is relatively small compared to some other colleges, but the community of students is very diverse, very friendly.
“In my first year we had the pandemic. I was on a floor with 20 people, and I think, because of the restrictions, I kind of appreciated the College environment more. I didn’t meet as many people, but I was able to build stronger connections at the beginning. And that ability to meet different people is something I've cherished throughout my time here.
“As I said, Sidney is very diverse and welcoming. You get to know everyone in your year quite quickly because of the size as well. And then on top of that I've done my fair share of sports as well. I've done some climbing, I've done badminton, I've rowed for the College as well. We have just had the Bumps and you really have to see those races, to appreciate their full glory and chaos. (laughs)
“So, yes, I’ve had opportunities to do lots of stuff.”
So, you have a year left on your Masters. What's on the horizon? Where do you hope to be in a year's time?
“So, I probably won't stay in academia. I think I'll be ready to move onto the practical side. I've the chance to gain some experience in consultancy this summer, so if that goes well then potentially that could be one route, but I'm also quite open to different careers. There are many different options to still achieve my goal of doing valuable work, but also in an area that I enjoy.
“I definitely want to stay at the forefront of new technology, seeing how it develops, and also to see the prospects for addressing the different challenges that we have globally – the climate problems, lack of resources, the ethical use of technology and whatnot.
“So, I definitely want a career where I can stay up to date, and be learning new things as I progress. But in terms of the specific route, I'm not sure at the moment.”
Great. You mentioned the many challenges that we face. If you could solve one of them, which one would it be?
“Oh, interesting. Well, it might not be as obvious a challenge, but I think a lot of these issues involve the same problem, which is almost a lack of communication, or a lack of trust: a failure to come together and to unite in our efforts to find a solution.
“I think one thing that I find joyful - and you can see it, for example, in the development of fusion technology - is when companies across the globe work together, coherently, and make sure that no one's left behind.
“And so I think finding ways to bring different efforts together, so that we're not working separately on the same challenges, would be a good contribution.
“No matter what the problem is, if we focus on the common, shared vision - what we're seeking - then we will achieve what we need to much quicker.”
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