Since graduating from MIT in 2016, Kelly O'Brien has adjusted to life in Detroit where she works as an aerodynamics engineer at General Motors.
When Kelly joined MIT Motorsports in 2014, she was one of only three women on the team. Today the 45-member team is split pretty equally, gender-wise, and for the last two years, has been captained by a woman.
What kinds of things did you learn on the MIT Motorsports team?
A lot of it was just how to learn to apply what I was learning in class to something actual and real. The theories that we learned in class are very, very different than applying it to something physical.
The Motorsports team was really good at teaching me: How do I work well under pressure? How do I work with a bunch of people who all have different perspectives and different backgrounds than me? And that experience was extremely helpful when I came to GM.
Any surprising roadblocks you've encountered entering the work world?
I think the biggest one was learning work-life balance. At MIT, I spent all of my time on classes or all of my time at the shop [Area 51]. The biggest thing was having a fast pace at work yet keeping a work-life balance. That was, I think, the hardest transition for me.
Speaking of work-life balance, what do you like to do outside of work for fun?
I’m mentoring a FIRST Robotics team in downtown Detroit. It's one of the ten inner city Detroit teams. (We’re team number 4838.) A lot of our mentors are actually MIT alums - I think we're up to five MIT alums now. When the season starts up in January, I’ll probably do 20-hours a week. It'll be like being on Motorsports again. Evenings after work, Saturdays. Everything gets put into First Robotics.
Favorite Motorsports memory?
It was probably during the Society of Automotive Engineers' Formula SAE Electric competition in Lincoln, Nebraska my senior year. (Kelly was the aero lead for the team.) Getting through tech inspection and actually getting on the track was a really big moment for the team. After seeing all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that car, it was really cool to see to see it actually on the track.