As an undergraduate Aerospace Engineering student, Erin Gormley knew she wanted to work for the National Transportation Safety Board. She got her start as a Co-op student, working for the NTSB in Washington, DC during her junior year, and was offered a position when she graduated in 1997. The rest is history, as Erin has continued her career with the agency as an Aerospace Engineer in the Vehicle Recorders Division. In addition to her BS degree, Erin received a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle and has a Private Pilot Certificate. Erin recently came to campus to serve on the Alumni Industry Panel, providing valuable advice for the students and alumni who attended. Additionally, she is a supporter of the Embry-Riddle Co-op Assistance Program and serves as a mentor for Women in Aviation.
Many students and alumni dream of working for the NTSB. How did you make it happen?
It was a personal goal to pursue a career at the NTSB, so when I was a junior at ERAU, I applied for a summer internship position at NTSB Headquarters in Washington, DC. While waiting to hear back, I introduced myself to an alumnus speaking on campus who was an NTSB investigator and told him I was still interested. I had tentatively accepted a position with another agency for the summer since I had not gotten a response, but he encouraged me to hang in there and I finally got word back that I had gotten the job. I spent 2 semesters working as a Co-op student in the engineering division. I worked hard, volunteered for any task going, and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could to better prepare me to continue working in accident investigation. Upon graduation, I was fortunate to have numerous interviews and job offers in the industry, in part because of my Co-op experience. When the NTSB offered me full-time employment, I jumped at the chance to follow my dream, and I have been with them ever since.
What do you do in your role as an Aerospace Engineer – Flight Recorders?
During major aircraft accident investigations, I serve as a Group Chairman for either the flight data recorder (FDR) or cockpit voice recorder (CVR) group that convenes. My role is to serve as a subject matter expert in these areas and lead a team of industry representatives in obtaining factual data that might be critical to the investigation. The information is first extracted from the physical devices, processed, converted, analyzed and then synthesized with various data from other disciplines to help paint a cohesive picture of what was occurring at the time of the event and, depending on the circumstances, aid in determining the underlying causes. Other responsibilities include providing technical assistance on minor incidents and foreign investigations, serving on standards committees, and providing outreach to the aviation safety community as necessary.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Each of the investigations I have worked provide me with unique insights and experiences. Doing flight tests and ground tests to try to replicate scenarios is a lot of fun because it gives me an inside look at a wide variety of aircraft types and systems, sometimes in conditions beyond which they were designed to operate. Working overseas always lends a fascinating perspective to my job because the laws, processes and cultural experiences vary from the way we do things here in the US. One memorable experience that stands out was working following the events of September 11, 2001. The NTSB does not lead investigations on criminal cases, but we were asked to provide technical assistance in this instance. I was staged at the Pentagon to help recover the recorders there and subsequently worked on data recovered from various other sources. It was a surreal atmosphere in DC that week, and it was an honor and a privilege to be performing an important public service during such a trying time for our Nation.
What advice do you have for students and alumni seeking opportunities with the NTSB? Federal government in general?
The STEP program (formerly Co-op) allows the Federal Government to hire students after having completed a certain number of hours working in their specific area of study. Participating in this program or an alternative (summer student, intern, volunteer, fellowship) is a great way to get exposure to an employer, show them your abilities and mutually decide if it is a good fit. Any internship or industry experience is beneficial when looking for employment. Federal service is sometimes overlooked because the salaries at entry-level are not as competitive as private industry, but the generous benefits offered are worth consideration when weighing decisions. Applying for a job with the government can be daunting, but I would say to be persistent. Reach out to as many people as possible through alumni networks, LinkedIn, and professional societies to find out about openings and get advice on how to improve your application. Use these resources to determine the ultimate requirements for the job you hope to pursue and strive to achieve that experience.
The NTSB is a small agency and with so many people passionate about the mission, vacancies are sometimes hard to come by. I encourage people to follow USAjobs.gov and watch for openings, but to also look at all the available options. Throughout the Federal Government and aviation industry, there are many exciting careers in aviation safety and accident investigation; the path to your dream career may take a different avenue than expected, but never give up on it.