Valentina Pessina

PhD Student in Mechanical and Road Vehicle Engineering, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

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Choose STEM if are passionate about it, if you are curios and creative, not because it should be easy or "the right thing".

What do you do?

Being a PhD student should be about curiosity, insane passion towards your research topic, resilience and patience. More specifically, my PhD studies deal with computational fluid-dynamics applied to turbulent reacting flows in internal combustion engines (so far…), thus my lab is a computer and my experiments are virtual simulations. Emission modelling (soot or particulate matter), fuel chemistry modelling, and all the engine simulation-related aspects are the core of the research I am undertaking. When I am not working, I still look forward deepen my knowledge in rocket propulsion, since I am deeply passionate about all the propulsion systems, that may encompass a broad spectrum of technologies and applications.

Why did you choose this field?

I’ve always been creative and curious and since I was a little girl I’ve been watching at the stars wondering about the science behind them. One day I decided to enroll in university, and I wanted to do STEM, since science and math have always been my jam since high school. I was thrilled to start one of these engineering path: mechanical, aerospace, or chemical. Since you have to start from one point, I peeked up Mechanical Engineering since I was into race cars. Only by exploring your path you will find what makes you feel alive, and so it was for me. After blood, sweat and tears, I majored in Vehicle engineering. It was during my master’s degree that I discovered Computational Fluid-Dynamics and by this tool I could bridge my passion for combustion science and fluid-dynamics, so I pursued my Master’s Thesis in this field and know I have begun my PhD in this s as well. And what about chemical and aerospace engineering? As for the chemical part, I am committed to deepen my knowledge in the fuel chemistry modelling and mastering the main concepts of the hydrocarbon-related chemistry as much as I can during my research. As for my passion towards spacecraft and space exploration, I study rocket propulsion systems and technologies in most of my free time, by reading books, attempting to develop my own codes to solve simple calculation related to this topic, which I will always bring inside my soul.
It is only by exploring the external world and your inner-self that you can find out what makes you happy and thrilled. However, you may encounter challenges and sometimes things may go sideways. Feeling loss and “not enough” is a human reaction to the bitterness this world sometimes shows us. What you must be aware is that your worth is not related to the mistakes you made along the way, instead, failing means learning about the thing you did wrong and yourself. Explore, experiment, be true to yourself and don’t let anyone tell you what can or cannot be, but show them what you are and what you will become.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I think the most important achievement so far is both my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. There were many times I felt discouraged, “not good enough” with respect of others, and I wanted to give it up all. Now I get those were tests: do your desire do become an engineer and your passion towards STEM topics stronger than your negative inner voices questioning your worth, asking if a woman can wear a lipstick and be an awesome engineer at the same time. Listen to those voices, but go for your own path. Let your courage to undertake the challenges and to take the leap towards your personal and academic knowledge be stronger than your fears, social prejudice, and your own self-sabotage. Believe in yourself, work as hard as you can, remember to keep the supporting and right people around you and go chase your STEM-DREAM cause you can.

Why do you love working in STEM?

Math and science are the language that engineering needs to express oneself. I love computational fluid-dynamics (CFD) because it is complex, challenging, and yet it is so flexible allowing you to simulate a wide variety of things (turbo-machinery, engines, air flowing around an object, it could be a bug to a Boeing 737). My CFD use is much-thermodynamic-oriented, thus I happen to deal with engines a lot, however I am very open to other more challenging propulsion systems. CFD allows you to visualize a flow, calculate the temperature, and many others such as the chemical concentration of the species changing in time, if the flow is reacting. The progress of the computational power we are witnessing in these decades will make these simulation techniques thriving in the future. I want to get even better in ten years so that one day I will pass down my knowledge and hopefully inspire new generations in pursuing this science, both form a mathematical point of view and an engineering perspective (which is more alike to what I am doing).

Best advice for next generation?

An advice at the beginning: if deep inside you feel it is right for you, do it. Choose STEM if you are passionate about it, if you are curios and creative, not because it should be easy or "the right thing".

An advice along the way:
Whenever you may encounter an obstacle, ask yourself: is your desire to become an engineer and your passion towards STEM topics stronger than your negative inner voices questioning your worth. Listen to those voices, but go for your own path. Let your courage to undertake the challenge be stronger than fear, social prejudice, and your own self-sabotage. Believe in yourself, work as hard as you can, remember to keep the supporting and right people around you and go chase your STEM-DREAM cause you can.


What matter the most is the resilience and and how long you work on something with passion. Whenever you may feel discouraged, take a break and recharge. Then go back to you STEM pursue. You've got all that you need to shine in STEM!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

An old Zen story teaches that there are two main mistakes in life: one is to do not start at all, the other one is to stop before you made it till the end of your journey. So be courageous and undertake your STEM pursue, despite the odds.

"Be persistent in your passions, dreams do come true if you have the courage to pursue them!" Bob Cabana


"It may seem difficult at first, but all things are difficult at first." Miyamoto Musashi

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