Lindsey Payne – On a mission to Mars

Programme of study: Advanced Aeronautical Engineering Scholarship  

Awarded: Department of Aeronautics MSc Scholarship  

Previous education: B.S. in Physics with a focus in Astrophysics, Minor in Creative Writing, Stanford University 

Favourite place: Kauai, Hawaii  

Imperial and Scholarship

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose to study a Masters within Aeronautics at Imperial? 

I was eager to integrate an engineering skillset into my scientific background. I was also compelled to try learning within a different academic framework than what I was used to in the US so that I could compare the experiences and refine which learning styles suit me best.  

Imperial stood out as it champions an internationally renowned Aeronautics programme with specific programmes in space concentrations. The university is also widely international and diverse, from the different languages spoken at lunch tables to the way peers greet one another; and I knew this cross-cultural environment would gift me with highly valuable work and life experiences. 

What does the scholarship mean to you and what has it enabled you to do? 

I had the honour of receiving an athletic scholarship to run Cross Country and Track and Field at Stanford University, while completing my BS.  

Similar to my Stanford scholarship, my academic scholarship from Imperial has removed financial barriers. It has also given me an extraordinary opportunity to study engineering before assuming a full-time job, allowing me to continue my education right away.  I can now enter current and future conversations within the workplace with a deeper knowledge on the scope of space missions, understanding how scientific objectives are set as well as how they are engineered to fruition. 

How did it feel when you found out you were a recipient of the scholarship? 

I felt equal parts gratitude and anticipation: gratitude for the unbelievable generosity shown on behalf of the university to offer such an exciting experience that I knew would expand (and alter) my view of the world and  anticipation for the 4000-mile move! 


Are you able to tell us a little bit about your current academic work (and what you enjoy about it)?

This summer I’m writing my MSc thesis on the work I’m doing for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Creative writing is a personal passion of mine that began in high school. It has been rewarding thus far to practice technical writing that delivers clear and complete information, but in a rich and engaging way. 

What study opportunities have you been presented with since joining the Masters? 

This master’s degree in engineering enabled my dream of working on a flagship mission to Mars, specifically within the Flight Systems Engineering group.  

My education at Imperial was well received at JPL, as many employees have studied at or collaborated with the university. Working at JPL on the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander this summer has been developmental, energising, and an inspiring team effort. 

In what ways do you hope to contribute to the world of engineering? 

In my lifetime, I hope to be a part of engineering teams that build spacecraft to expand humanity’s reach into the universe and answer pressing scientific questions that may redefine existing models.

Beyond your studies, what other opportunities have you taken up at Imperial? 

I’ve had the pleasure of joining the women’s football club as well as the athletics club last autumn. For the latter, I got to compete in the English National Indoor Track and Field championships with a group of teammates which was a blast.  

Future and Advice

What are your future academic and professional goals and how do you see the scholarship award help you achieve them? 

My time as a competitive endurance athlete has directly influenced the way I approach decision making in my education and career. I guide choices by using present goals to build upon long-term aspirations.  

In the future, I will strive to apply for US astronaut candidacy. This may require continuing my education   towards a PhD in Aerospace Engineering or seeking industry experience as a flight test engineer. These two pathways were both made possible by my MSc from Imperial. 

What advice do you have for other females who aspire for success in the field? 

Put your foot in every door that fascinates you, even if you think it will never open. Ask questions unabashedly both in the classroom and of professionals you network with. If you find yourself to be the only woman in the room, trust that what you have to say will be heard.  

Seek out peers, mentors, and contacts that encourage these questions, embrace the art of mistakes, and share your enthusiasms. 

What excites you most in the area of (applied) Aeronautical Engineering? 

I am excited at the prospects of greener architecture and autonomous flight systems as they are quickly growing, have many applications and serve important purposes beyond commercial appeal.


What excites you most about being an international student in London? 

The certainty that I will meet someone from an entirely different background than me, who can teach me about a new part of the world, daily. Also, the ease of travelling to nearby European countries!

Have you discovered any hidden gems in London/at Imperial? 

The gelato! Sadly, it has made me dislike ice cream back home in the US which is – unfortunately- our dominant frozen treat. 

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