Breaking out of his comfort zone – Roberto exceeds all expectations while interning at EUMETSAT

Pushing himself – and the satellites – to their limits, Roberto ventured out of Italy for the first time to complete his internship with us.

Getting off to a slow start due to lockdown restrictions, Roberto eventually managed to spend more ‘hands-on’ time at HQ and get to know his fellow colleagues.

A self-proclaimed ‘space nerd’, Roberto was able to work on projects close to his heart – read all about his experience with us below!

1) Can you give us a bit of an introduction to you and your work/studies?

My name is Roberto and I come from Italy. I’m currently in my second year of a telecommunication engineering master’s that required some time doing an internship abroad as part of the course. My master’s is specific in that it specialises in “information and communication technology for climate”, aka “ICT for Climate”, and is funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

In short, the EIT Climate-KIC is a European knowledge and innovation community, working towards an inclusive, climate-resilient society founded on a circular, zero-carbon economy. They catalyse the innovation needed across sectors by gathering students from different educational fields to tackle global challenges. Thanks to this, engineers, architects, law students and many more have the opportunity to take some classes and modules related to climate change.

In my case, the modules are mainly related to business planning (how to start a climate-conscious company) and energy planning (how can we use it more sustainably) which is something that I find very interesting, so as soon as I saw the chance to apply, I did.

Roberto at the office

2) How long was the internship?

It lasted six months. Due to Covid, I unfortunately spent the first month working remotely from Italy, which was a little bit sad, but still I had plenty of things to do because I had to learn a lot of things. I am still very lucky though, as I had at least the chance to spend five months on site and have now learnt many things.

3) What was your specific role here?

In a nutshell, I was working in the System Engineering and Projects team, which is part of the larger Technical and Scientific Support division. The team works on the ground segment, which receives data from the satellites in space.

I worked on the geostationary (GEO) satellites, which are 36,000km away and have a fixed view of the Earth. That’s why they are very useful for telecommunication as ground antennas do not need to rotate to track them, but can simply be pointed permanently at the same position in the sky.

Among all of the services the GEO satellites provide (weather forecasting, climate monitoring etc.), I worked on one type of service: the “Data Collection Service” (DCS). This enables Data Collection Platforms (DCPs) to use the GEO satellites to receive environmental data collected from DCPs, particularly useful when located in remote/inhospitable locations where it is the only possibility for data relay.

The DCP platforms are basically antennas (DCP transmitters) and are usually powered by a solar panel that sends interesting data back about the environment. Some possible applications may include: meteorological data collection, forest fire monitoring, water resources management or tsunami warning systems.

My specific role in this was focused on pushing the service to its limits and creating particular scenarios that may occur. As EUMETSAT is soon transitioning to Meteosat Third Generation and this satellite system is not yet active (scheduled for launch in late 2022), I had to do this through a simulator. Through the simulator, I ran performance checks to test what could go wrong before it can go wrong.

The hardest part of all this was trying to imagine potential issues. I had to think what might go wrong on board the satellites or any interferences we might incur (perhaps a TV channel uses the same frequency and disturbs our messages, for instance). I really pushed the satellite/simulator to its very limit.

4) Can you tell us what a typical day looked like for you?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to meet everybody on the team in person due to home office, but as I said, I still considered myself very lucky to be there. So even if I didn’t have the chance to socialise a lot with the direct team I at least had the chance to meet other people (including other interns) from different fields and divisions who were there on site.

I still had to write my master’s thesis while I was on the internship, so on a typical day I ran these simulations and, as the time needed for each simulation can sometimes be up to 48 hours, I had time to write the thesis in-between, as well as attend some meetings. Most of them were fortunately with my supervisor as well, which was very beneficial to me as he was always available to help and has been not only my supervisor, but a teacher. As I’m somebody who’s coming from a pretty theoretical background, I had the opportunity to understand everything in a more practical sense. Now, I find this area of study even more appealing.

5) Was this your first internship?

Yes, and it was also my first time abroad – I’m happy to be able to have had the chance to work on improving my English! I really wanted to go out of my comfort zone and push myself to the limit.

6) How did you get to hear about EUMETSAT and what made you choose us for your internship?

I heard about EUMETSAT a long time ago because I’m a space nerd, as a lot of engineers on my team are (so we’re all united by this passion) and it meant that I have always followed ESA, NASA, SpaceX etc. So I eventually heard about the Copernicus Programme and from that, I heard about the fact that EUMETSAT plays a very important role in the programme. As soon as I discussed EUMETSAT as a potential internship with my professor, he encouraged me to apply and the rest is history.

7) What are your plans after the internship?

I’m still a space nerd so of course I would love to work within an international environment like this, and to work with climate-change issues specifically. I would love to be able to help somehow and I’m ready to learn and see where I fit in/what I can do. I realise I still have a lot to learn and would very much like to gain more working experience where I can. A space agency would be ideal, maybe related to Earth observation and then climate change as a consequence.

My university is pushing me more towards a PhD, but I don’t know… During those five months I learnt so much and now want to put everything into practice. Now I know what I really enjoy, so why not try to apply to some space agencies? I think I will have the time to do a PhD maybe later on if I want, but I feel a responsibility to do something as soon as possible. With the ongoing news about the state of the planet, I feel like the next few years are important and I want to support where I can – this would be an inspiring thing for me to do.

8) Has the internship met your expectations and did you achieve everything you wanted to?

Of course, I was full of expectations before leaving Italy. Just the fact that I’ve finally found something close to what I want to do, completed my first time abroad and a first internship – I feel like I definitely fulfilled those expectations. I think entering the working world is hard for everybody, and at the start, there were definitely some challenges, but I can look back now at all that I achieved and I just hope that what I have done is useful and that others can continue my work.

Those six months went by fast and leaving was bittersweet – I feel now I’m much quicker working with simulator parameters so didn’t want to leave so soon, but I am also coming away with lots of new knowledge and experiences. This time away taught me many things, not only technical, but also how to see things from very different perspectives. I also understood a little better the country stereotypes, it’s very funny, but ultimately I learnt a lot and I feel very fulfilled.

9) If you were to sum up your experience overall in things you enjoyed the most, what would you say were your favourite moments?

Aside from all of the practical knowledge I gained, I would say meeting people from other European countries, it’s something that is really inspiring and at the same time can teach you a lot of things. While I was here, Italy also won the Eurovision Song Contest and the European Football Championship – it was amazing to share this experience with new friends. I also had the chance to visit a lot of cities; Heidelberg, Mainz, Frankfurt and Munich. We also went to Strasbourg and I felt lucky being able to take advantage of the fact that we are so close to this part of France.

Living here in this part of Europe means you are very well connected, and you can be in a different country within a few hours by car or train. In southern Italy where I come from you must cross the whole country, so unless you fly it takes a long time to go anywhere.

Work-wise, some simulations went exactly as I was expecting and these were such happy moments (an engineer’s joy!). Ultimately though, working with a lot of people from different countries is really interesting. As well as wanting to learn more about my technical field, I also like to learn as much as possible from people coming from different countries – how they think, work etc.

I’ll always know now what is meant by “the craic”, thanks to my Irish friends 🙂

Roberto at EUMETSAT HQ in front of a Meteosat full-disc image

10) As it was your first time in Germany, how did you find it compared to Italy?

I am from Naples originally but I’m currently studying at the University of Bologna and there are definitely a few noticeable “cultural differences”. Everything runs smoothly in Germany and it’s very accommodating to students, as there’s a good public transport system and everything usually comes on time! From my point of view, Germany is a great place to live, study and learn.

11) Outside of study/working life, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I used to be a football referee because I love football, but cannot play it at all! So refereeing seemed like a good compromise. Sports-wise, I also did judo and really enjoy the way sport allows you to switch off for a while. It’s also healthy and it’s fun, so why not! Then I’m also really into music, I couldn’t imagine a life without it! So I also spend my spare time playing guitar and singing Disney songs (my shower loves listening to me).

I have also said it a few times (in case you didn’t get that already!) but I am a space nerd, so I love reading sci-fi books and following space news. Then there’s also going out with friends and visiting the coast near where I live, there are some lovely cities around there. I really love travelling as it’s the best way to learn new things and open your mind up to new ways of thinking.

12) What advice would you give to other potential interns or students who want to follow in your footsteps?

I would just suggest not to be afraid of going out of your comfort zone – it can be hard at the beginning, I know, but if you try it at least once or twice you will realise after all it’s not that scary. Even if you have some problems with English as I have, I have come to understand that it’s more important what you’re going to say, rather than how you’re saying it!

You might come across some obstacles, but it’s normal. It’s a worthwhile experience and I would recommend to anybody to do some work experience abroad.

Indeed – sometimes taking the plunge pays off! Thanks to Roberto for taking the time to talk to us and we wish him all the best in his future plans.


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Natalie Lunt

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