Charlie Kelly

Level: Ph.D.

Charlie Kelly

How did you become interested in engineering and of UW A&A in particular? Tell us more about your pathways leading you here.

I first started thinking of engineering as a career when I was applying to college, but I had no idea I wanted to do aerospace – I thought I wanted to work in finance.  During freshman year I remember watching a lot of YouTube videos of space shuttle launches, playing Kerbal Space Program, and one day I realized that’s what I wanted to study.  I ended up doing my thesis research in electric propulsion which eventually led me to graduate programs that had labs in that field, which made the University of Washington a top choice.

Tell us about your interesting internships and research experience. 

My first real internship was as a research assistant working on a novel plasma thruster design.  That experience really opened the door to the world of advanced concept research and exposed me to a way of approaching complex problems I hadn’t seen in class.  From that initial spark, I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. to continue learning and working on those types of problems. My research at the UW is very gratifying because it’s even further at the edge between science and fiction – and my hope is to prove it’s actually science!

Another great opportunity I’ve had through my research is to visit different NASA centers for collaborative internships.  Last spring, I spent ten weeks at Langley Research Center, and right now I am at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on a mission concept that could demonstrate crucial deep-space exploration technologies.  For a huge space nerd, these internships are a dream come true.

What do you enjoy most about A&A?

I am surrounded by a tight-knit group of students in the Plasma concentration who make the Ph.D. experience much brighter.  I look forward to our weekly lunches and enjoy the camaraderie we share. I am also grateful to have an adviser (Professor Little) who champions his students, values work-life balance, and pushes me intellectually.  His mentorship is a particularly rewarding part of my experience in A&A.

What advice do you have for prospective students?

For graduate students, I can’t stress enough the importance of a good adviser.  Try to get to know professors before committing to 5+ years with them. Also, make friends on orientation day – my closest friends in grad school are people I met on the first day.